Nearly 400 students, teachers and others rallied Friday afternoon for National School Choice Week at Pikes Peak Prep.

Third-graders at the charter school performed a rap about choosing their school. Second-graders wrote letters that will be sent to community leaders.

The right for a student to choose which public school he or she wants to attend has been mandated by Colorado law for more than a decade, but it’s up to students and their parents to act on the options available.

“Parents need to take an active role in their child’s education,” said P.J. Gage, Pikes Peak Prep spokeswoman.

The Public Schools of Choice Act of 1990 gave families the option of attending a school other than the one that would be assigned by school and district boundaries. A charter school law a few years later further increased options.

Before 1990, families could apply to a different school, but there was no set process and attendance was strictly controlled, said John Keane, executive director of K-12 schools for Colorado Springs School District 11.

The law gives guidelines, but specifics are left to school districts, said Gina Schlieman, with the Colorado Department of Education’s Schools of Choice unit.

As long as there is space available at a school and the family provides transportation, there are very few reasons that a school can say no.

“We can’t tell them they can’t go, and we can’t tell them they can’t come,” Keane said.

Most school districts have set enrollment periods, open enrollment in the fall and a “choice window” in the spring.

D-11 students can change schools at any point during the school year, but enrollment in the same school is not guaranteed the following year, Keane said.

Having education options has changed the way school districts operate and plan, as they can no longer assume that every student within a school boundary will attend the neighborhood school.

“It’s made for an interesting dynamic in public schools,” said Devra Ashby, spokeswoman for District 11. “We are now competing with other types of schools and other school districts.”

It means schools and districts must think about marketing, advertising and community relationships more, compared to when attending the neighborhood school was the only option.

Charter and private schools are familiar with looking at the competition and strategically selling themselves, she said.

“It raises the bar in public education,” Ashby said.

Although deadlines for the “choice window” vary among the school districts in the Pikes Peak region, most open in January and close in February or March.

D-11’s choice window was extended this year to March 22.

“We wanted to give people enough time to choose a school,” Ashby said.

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