Open to Choose a Better, More Diverse Future

By Susan D. Cocco

Education which expands the opportunity for success in a diverse world is a vital contribution to society. Ridgefield’s exceptional schools can proudly point to the human, scientific and economic contributions of our graduates. The wider society beyond our town benefits from the investment we make in the Ridgefield Public Schools and its students. 

Today we can build an even stronger future for our students by supporting a bill which proposes the expansion of CT’s Open Choice program and by our voluntary participation as a “receiving” district. Systems such as ours with resources, yet declining enrollment, can designate at their discretion a number of seats to be made available for students from an Open Choice region—which are typically districts experiencing increasing enrollment and limited resources. Expanding the existing Open Choice program means that students in neighboring  Norwalk and Danbury could enroll in Ridgefield Schools up to the limit of the # of seats we designate locally via our own Board of Education. They would contribute their talents, diverse learning styles and future potential to our school community.  

This makes sense for Ridgefield on many levels. Open Choice is entirely voluntary and locally determined, (Open Choice is not regionalization).  We have control. Available for many years, Open Choice previously has not included students from Danbury or Norwalk. Both are neighboring towns of vibrancy, cultural, ethnic and economic diversity, all of which will contribute to the learning and teaching environment in Ridgefield.  Our students, faculty and system will be enriched.  

Being part of a multi-cultural student population opens the worldview and nurtures diverse relationships for Ridgefield’s kids. They’ll be ready for the society they’ll experience once they leave the Ridgefield public schools. Their lives will be enhanced.  As will the lives of all of their classmates. 

Transportation (paid by the State), special education, IEP costs or other special fees are not the responsibility of the receiving school system. Special education is covered by the “sending” district, i.e., there is no impact to the special education budget of the receiving schools. Both systems are engaged in the welfare of the students. The State of CT contributes a grant of $3,000-$8,000 per student to the receiving district. We benefit.

Towns such as Easton (21 students), Weston (27 students), Westport (62 students) and Fairfield (65 students)  already participate in Open Choice. They champion its positive impact on their school system, students and community.  

Our era has demonstrated that the well-being of our children, communities and our future relies upon mutual support, growth and collaboration. Ridgefield should be a champion of the Open Choice program. We should participate and take the opportunity to move forward to a more diverse, vibrant and beneficial future for our town and its younger generation.

Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column.