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2018-01-31 / Front Page

Parents upset over redistricting plan

BY RICH GRISET STAFF WRITER

At the school system’s first town hall meeting to discuss redistricting, parents expressed frustration over the process, which some said excluded their input.

During the meeting at Elizabeth Davis Middle on Jan. 24, school officials took their first steps toward “spot redistricting,” starting with elementary schools in the Bermuda District. In addition to helping diversify school populations, mixing students of different socioeconomic backgrounds, the school system says spot redistricting will solve overcrowding, create shorter bus routes and reduce the number of classroom trailers used.

For the Bermuda District, spot redistricting would bring all elementary schools under capacity by the start of the 2019- 20 school year, school officials said, alleviating significant overcrowding at Elizabeth Scott Elementary and the need for classroom trailers.

“We appreciate that this is very disruptive, and this change is hard,” School Board Chairman John Erbach told parents and students assembled in Elizabeth Davis’ auditorium. “We definitely don’t do this lightly. There will be additional redistricting in the rest of the county. Trust me, this is not isolating one part of the county.”

The Bermuda redistricting plan comes nearly two years after the School Board declined to move on a comprehensive K-12 redistricting proposal created by a consultant. Recounting this history, school spokesman Tim Bullis explained that the School Board decided that was too disruptive, as it would force more than a quarter of students to change schools.

“It was an eye-opener,” said Bullis of the report. “One out of every two children would have changed schools at the elementary school level.”

Instead, the School Board opted to do gradual, spot redistricting as schools were built, rebuilt and renovated to help balance enrollments in the school system. The plan only allows rising fifth graders to be grandfathered into their current schools, and only if parents can provide transportation.

“I know that change is really hard. We all love our schools tremendously,” Bermuda District representative Carrie Coyner told the audience. “I can tell you, I love every school in my district the same, and I would feel confident sending my three children to any school in the district.” After a presentation in the auditorium, parents and students were broken up by their new school assignments to meet in classrooms with their new principals and vice principals.

In Room 613, roughly four dozen parents listened to Enon Elementary principal Jennifer Hinson speak about the school. The parents asked standard questions you’d hear at a regular open house, concerning topics like its gifted program and Spanish language curriculum.

It was a different scene in Room 616, where school officials fielded questions from parents whose children will be attending Marguerite Christian Elementary, a Title I school, meaning it receives additional federal funding for having a high number or high percentage of children from low-income families. Several parents expressed consternation about the plan, including the school system’s labeling it as a proposal.

“I thought that this whole thing was just a proposal,” said Allie Maddy, a nursing student who currently has a first-grader at C.C. Wells Elementary. “I didn’t really know that this was pretty much a done deal. I feel like I really don’t have a voice. … I’m very discouraged about this.”

Other parents asked about the possibility of being grandfathered into their current school, which Superintendent James Lane said was not allowed. Many voiced concerns about child care, saying that they currently had affordable arrangements and were worried about changing them. Lane said it might be possible to add school bus stops to aid with child care.

Marguerite Christian Elementary principal Jennifer Lenz noted that the school partners with the YMCA to provide low-cost before- and after-school child care programming.

Parent Karen Riggleman also criticized school officials for calling the presentation a proposal.

“We’re not getting a voice,” she said. “We’re really just getting an opportunity to complain, and then try to be sold on an idea.”

She said her family has lived in their current home for a decade, and was attracted by the strength of C.C. Wells Elementary, which her daughter will no longer attend under the new plan.

“We chose that area because of that school,” Riggleman said. “We were in a great place, and now we’re going to not as great a place.” ¦

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