In this image from February, Aspen Community School's new main classroom building is under construction at right, while classes are still underway in the 40-year-old main school building at left. The school in Woody Creek is part of the Aspen School District, but many of its students live outside the district boundaries.
In this image from February, Aspen Community School\ Credit: Bob Ward/Aspen Journalism

Overcrowding has finally forced the Aspen School District to essentially close its doors to out-of-district students from the Aspen Community School.

The Aspen Board of Education decided on the change at its May 18 meeting, ending a policy that attracted many downvalley families to the small, public, K-8 charter school in Woody Creek. For many of those families, the Community School offered both an intimate, arts-focused school experience and a ticket to Aspen High School upon graduating eighth grade.

Skye Skinner, executive director of Compass — the nonprofit organization that runs the Aspen Community School, the Carbondale Community School and the Community Preschool in Woody Creek — delivered the news to Aspen Community School families by email Wednesday morning.

“The graduating class of 2015 is the last group that will have the opportunity for automatic enrollment,” Skinner wrote, referring to this year’s group of Community School eighth-graders. “Effective 2015-16 (i.e., beginning with our current seventh-grade class), out-of-district (Community School) students will need to apply for (Aspen High School) admission. This will also pertain to (Community School) siblings of (Aspen High School) students and the children of (Community School) staff.”

The policy change does not mean that the high school will not accept out-of-district children from the Community School or other schools, but means that out-of-district children must apply for any available spaces after the students who live in the district have been accommodated. Additionally, out-of-district students attending Aspen Middle School will have priority over Community School children.

Capacity issues at the Aspen schools, especially the high school, are not new. The schools have long been seen as the best public schools in the Roaring Fork Valley, and more families are moving into the district. In 2012, school officials reported that Aspen High had 561 students enrolled, while the building was only designed to hold 540. That same year, several elementary school students were disenrolled when the district found their families had falsified residency documents in order to gain admission to the school.

During those years and many beforehand, out-of-district students from the Community School were granted a special exception to enter the high school.

“Parents at Aspen Community School have been super lucky that our kids have been grandfathered for this long,” Skinner said after the May 18 decision. “They extended the grandfathering for the last couple of years despite the fact that they were overcrowded.”

Community School graduates who live inside the Aspen district won’t be affected by the policy, but 70 percent of the school’s 128 kids live in Basalt, El Jebel and neighboring areas outside district boundaries. Those children will most likely attend public schools in Basalt or Carbondale.

Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on education coverage. The newspaper published this story on May 21, 2015.