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Parents object to GCPS districts

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

DULUTH — Two complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights allege Gwinnett County Public Schools’ latest redistricting discriminates against low-income and minority students, an official confirmed Friday.

Duluth resident Lynne Sycamore said she and a “handful” of other parents filed the complaints after the Gwinnett County Board of Education voted April 21 to create new boundary lines for the Duluth and Peachtree Ridge clusters. Although the board’s stated purpose for the redistricting was to relieve overcrowding in the Peachtree Ridge cluster, Sycamore said that’s not what it accomplished.

The new boundary lines will shift 505 students from the Peachtree Ridge cluster to the Duluth cluster. Of those, 241 students will be moving from Mason to either Chesney, Harris or Chattahoochee elementary schools, 106 students will move from Hull to Duluth Middle and 158 will move from Peachtree Ridge to Duluth High.

New district map

While Hull and Peachtree Ridge are both over capacity, Mason Elementary’s enrollment is 13 students below its capacity of 1,200. Hull has 659 more students than its capacity of 1,750, and Peachtree Ridge is over its 2,800-student capacity by 426.

Sycamore said the redistricting did not address the overcrowding at Hull and Peachtree Ridge. Instead, more than half of the kids will be moving out of a school that is not over capacity.

“The vast majority of these kids are minority children of a low socioeconomic status,” Sycamore said, noting that an area around Gwinnett Place Mall moving over to the Duluth cluster includes apartment complexes and two extended stay hotels. “They’re moving these children and creating pockets of poverty.”

Sycamore said Duluth is already an “overburdened cluster.” Nearly half of the students at Duluth High receive free or reduced-price meals, which is typically considered an indication of poverty. At Peachtree Ridge High, the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price meals is about 32 percent, but the area is more affluent, containing neighborhoods such as the Sugarloaf Country Club.

“Clearly Peachtree Ridge has the resources to meet the needs of these children,” Sycamore said.

Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said one of the two complaints alleges that the redistricting discriminates against low-income and minority students in that it prevents the students from attending the high school in the more affluent section of the district. The allegation continues that this will impose an undue burden on an already poorer school, while protecting the high school in the wealthy area from an influx of poor and minority students.

The other complaint alleges that the district selected 450 underprivileged Hispanic and black children to move from an affluent school cluster to an already overburdened poorer school, Bradshaw said. The complaint alleges that those students were the only ones selected to move.

Bradshaw said the Office for Civil Rights is evaluating the complaints to determine if they are appropriate for investigation.

Jorge Quintana, spokesman for Gwinnett County Public Schools, said the district has not been officially notified of the complaints.

He said most students are moving from Mason because all cluster boundaries are determined by elementary school attendance zones. The elementary schools feed into the middle and high schools in the cluster.

Members of the Gwinnett County Board of Education have said in public meetings that socioeconomics are not a factor in redistricting.