Parents ask for delay on school redistricting vote

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

SUWANEE — Carlos Sanchez said he and his neighbors were blindsided Friday by the news that Gwinnett County Public Schools planned to redistrict their Cresswell subdivision in Duluth.

“We were stunned to see that our community was thrown out of the Peachtree Ridge cluster,” Sanchez told the Gwinnett County Board of Education during a public hearing Wednesday night. “We never participated in the input process because we were not affected. Our community was completely safe.”

Gwinnett County Public Schools is redrawing boundary lines between the Duluth and Peachtree Ridge clusters to relieve overcrowding in the Peachtree Ridge cluster. After receiving input on the original plan, the school system released an updated proposal of the new attendance zones on Friday.

Wednesday’s public hearing attracted many people from neighborhoods in the Peachtree Ridge cluster that were unaffected by the original redistricting proposal. Those neighborhoods, including Cresswell, Cardinal Lake North and Woodbridge, are now slated to move to the Duluth cluster.

Many parents from those neighborhoods who addressed the board criticized the timing of the redistricting. They said they did not feel they were given a fair chance to provide input into the process. Additionally, they said it was not fair to their children for this to happen the week before they take the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.

The school board is expected to vote on the redistricting proposal during its meeting at 7 p.m. today. Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said any revisions to the map would be posted online by 1 p.m.

“It’s ... going to be unconscionable if you make changes to this map, publish it at 1 o’clock and vote on it at 7 o’clock,” said Ron Bowell, a resident of the Woodbridge subdivision.

Several speakers urged the school board to delay adopting a plan to allow residents more time to provide input.

Some residents of the Duluth cluster asked the board to consider socioeconomics when they redraw school boundary lines.

“I cannot say that moving the students in the proposed areas to the Duluth cluster will affect any school’s ability to make (Adequate Yearly Progress), because that would be prejudicing these children,” Duluth parent Allison Viller said. “I am very concerned about the possibility that the proposed map will create even more challenges for the Duluth cluster schools to make AYP, and I respectfully assert that GCPS knows the answer to this because you have access to all the information (regarding records, test scores, grades, ethnicity and free and reduced lunch status) in SASI.

“If you do not consider socioeconomic a factor in your redistricting, you are crippling a school’s ability to have a positive impact on every child’s life and provide a rewarding educational experience for all students.”

Wilbanks said socioeconomic factors are not considered in the process. He said redistricting is done to house the majority of students inside a school instead of trailers, relieve overcrowding at schools and balance enrollment while disrupting the minimum number of students and keeping neighborhoods intact when possible.

Robert McClure, the board’s chairman, said he will not redistrict schools based on socioeconomic factors. He said he wants students to go to schools “because they are human beings, not because of how much their parents make or what color their skin is.”

Some Duluth cluster parents expressed distrust in this, citing the differences in the PTA budgets between Duluth and Peachtree Ridge.

Other parents in Duluth said they were pleased by some of the changes, specifically the elimination of the displacement of students from Harris Elementary, and glad to see that the revised proposal would bring back some neighborhoods in the Duluth city limits to the Duluth cluster schools.

Duluth parent Amanda Helmstetter said she was encouraged by the efforts made in the revised map, but she thinks there’s still work to be done to balance enrollment equitably between the two clusters.

“The old map was an F. The current map is a C,” she said. “We still have some work to do to provide an excellent education to all students.”