The Rancho Santa Fe School District board is exploring the possibility of allowing non-enrolled students who live in the district to participate in R. Roger Rowe School programs. The board is looking into the option as parents Mark and Beth Nelson made a request to allow their son, who is no longer enrolled at the school, to be able to stay active in the robotics program.
Only three board members were present at the July 29 meeting, so the board continued the item to its September meeting to have the full board’s consideration and allow time for more information to be gathered.
Richard Currier, the district’s attorney, said the California Education Code offers no guidance on the topic and advised the board to consider developing a policy to address such requests in the future.
In 2008, the Nelsons had the opportunity to meet Dean Kamen, the founder of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the organization that runs robotics competitions like FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge) and FLL (FIRST Lego League).
The Nelsons were so inspired by the Kamens’ organization that they founded the Rancho Robotics Team in collaboration with the Rancho Santa Fe Community Center.
Since the robotics program launched at R. Roger Rowe School in 2012, it has grown tremendously, with participants ranging from first-graders to middle schoolers. Teachers John Galipault and David Warner lead the program, with multiple parents volunteering as coaches.
“After three seasons, it’s hard to believe there was ever a time when we didn’t have a robotics program at the school,” Mark Nelson said. “It’s really the passion and tireless effort of parent volunteers that really enabled the program to realize its full potential.”
Warner said the robotics program has been a place where the Nelsons’ son has been able to thrive and feel included.
RSF School District Superintendent Lindy Delaney said there is some precedent to allow nonstudents to participate in school activities. Under the previous superintendent, a nonstudent was allowed to play on the basketball team. This year, without her knowledge, a home-schooled child participated in the robotics program.
She has also denied requests in the past, such as before the school lacrosse team became a club team through Adrenaline Youth Lacrosse.
“We don’t get a lot of asks,” Delaney said.
Delaney said a lot of factors need to be considered, such as child displacement. For example, it would be a question of fairness if a child were let into the drama program and took a lead role from an enrolled student, or if a non-enrolled child bumped a student from playing time on a sports team.
Board Vice President Tyler Seltzer said that he is not supportive of allowing nonstudents to take advantage of R. Roger Rowe offerings. If a family chooses to switch schools, they are forgoing the opportunities they would have at Rowe.
“We’re not an a la carte menu,” Seltzer said. “I’m strongly inclined to be exceedingly against allowing nonschool families to participate in our programs.”
Seltzer also worried about the precedents, such as developing a practice of recruiting students to play on sports teams.
Board President Todd Frank said it is an interesting situation because Rowe is a public school and the residents are taxpayers in the district. He said he would like to see a consistent policy developed so there would be no “cherry-picking of favorites” and nothing that could be construed as discriminatory.
Board Trustee Todd Buchner said he is inclined to support the idea, but would like to see more information.
“In fairness to the Nelsons and other families, we ought to do the research and take a look at it and bring it back to the board,” Delaney said. “I feel like it deserves a look.”