Attending high school outside of a student's neighborhood would become more difficult under a new policy being considered by the Montgomery County school board.

The change would, for the first time, require students who attend middle schools outside their neighborhoods to apply to attend high school with their classmates.

Students in Montgomery County Public Schools can ask for permission to go to a school other than their neighborhood school -- a process known as a "Change of School Assignment," or "COSA" -- when there has been a "unique hardship," according to school policy.

Transfer requests
Year Transfer requests Approved Appeals to superintendent Approved Appeals to school board Approved
2008-2009 3,705 74 percent 437 50 percent 76 8 percent
2009-2010 3,561 64 percent 362 59 percent 43 2 percent
2010-2011 3,882 62 percent 373 52 percent 42 3 percent
2011-2012 4,477 85 percent 373 38 percent 63 3 percent
2012-2013 4,192 88 percent 408 38 percent 71 3 percent
Source: Montgomery County Public Schools

For example, if a family's house burns down and the family temporarily rents a house in a different school district, the student can apply for the transfer to stay at the same school, explained school board member Pat O'Neill, chairwoman of the board's Policy Committee.

A student also can apply for transfer to a school if an older sibling attends a magnet, language-immersion or other application-based program at the school. Whatever the circumstances, whether a student can be granted a COSA depends on the availability of seats at the school.

The number of students applying for transfers has grown by 13 percent since 2008, according to MCPS, leading the school system to consider a policy change that has the potential to reduce the number of students attending a high school in a different part of the county than where they live.

Under current policy, an elementary school student with a COSA needs to reapply to continue onto the middle school in the same feeder system with his classmates, but a middle school student does not need to reapply before continuing onto high school with his classmates.

The policy up for consideration at Thursday's school board meeting would change that by requiring middle school students to reapply, as well.

"There is no logic to the continuation of the COSAs to the high school," O'Neill said. Middle school magnet and language-immersion programs often end before students enter high school, and students come from multiple middle schools -- public and private -- to a single high school.

As the schools' population continues to grow quickly, the transfers also can cramp already overcrowded halls. The school system expects an additional 10,654 students over the next five years.

In the Bethesda-Chevy Chase school cluster, parents have complained about overcrowding, O'Neill said. The school-age population is growing in the area, and though COSAs are approved only where seats are available, the school cannot kick out the students who have already been approved for transfers.

"Overcrowding conditions have become more of a problem, not less of a problem, and overcrowding is going to continue to be a problem for MCPS," O'Neill said.