Cottonwood Elementary

Kindergarten teacher Jonna Grube helps Mia Knapp with a Christmas ornament she created in December at Cottonwood Elementary School. Open enrollment for placement in Natrona County schools is open through Jan. 17. 

Elysia Conner, Star-Tribune

Open enrollment has begun in the Natrona County School District, a few weeks after a similar window opened for the hundreds of students whose schools will close at the end of this academic year.

As a district of choice, Natrona County allows students to apply to enroll in any school, regardless of geographic location. Students picking a new school select their top three choices, and the district works to put them in one of those three. Officials have said there are very few cases where a student is not given one of their top choices. The enrollment window ends on Jan. 17.

But school choice doesn’t mean that every student can pick a school and be enrolled in it. Some schools don’t have open spots, which may be a function of a jam-packed building or a school that has low enrollment and has cut down on the number of open classrooms.

The district also has a hierarchy for which students get preference. At the top is students currently in their schools, meaning that the district won’t bump an enrolled student from his or her school so another student can take the spot. After that are students with special needs and their siblings.

Next are students who’ve been displaced. This year, that means hundreds of students who attend Willard, Mountain View and University Park elementary schools and Frontier Middle. The school board voted in October to shutter the four buildings after this academic year, saying that the district had little choice as it grapples with declining enrollment and economic pressures.

Those students had a special open enrollment period that started in late November and ended in December, but district officials said they wouldn’t have an idea about available spots until the full open enrollment period ends in two weeks. Only then will they begin to understand openings and demand, which may prompt them to open more classrooms in a school that left some empty.

Officials have said that students will begin to find out in the early spring as the district begins to understand what’s open.

The district is also holding open houses at every school at staggered hours, largely because of the closing schools. That way, families can visit as many of the district’s more than 20 elementary schools as they want.

Families can enroll and learn more on the district’s website.

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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