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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Rezoning controversy in Alachua County Public Schools, explained

School Board has no map, waiting for public input

<p>A sign in front of the Alachua County Public Schools district office building is seen Sunday, June 6, 2021.</p>

A sign in front of the Alachua County Public Schools district office building is seen Sunday, June 6, 2021.

To the dismay of some parents, Alachua County Public Schools will rezone four of its 22 public elementary schools by August to balance enrollment. The School Board hosted a workshop Wednesday to receive public feedback on the matter, hearing from concerned parents who want to halt or alter the process. 

Spot versus comprehensive rezoning

One-third of the district’s elementary schools are operating over capacity. The district has two options: spot rezoning, which rezones only a few schools, and comprehensive rezoning, which impacts the entire district. 

ACPS hasn’t drawn maps to plan the rezoning yet, but Chiles, Hidden Oak and Meadowbrook Elementary Schools were brought to the forefront of the conversation because they’re overcrowded. Terwilliger, the elementary school that rezoned students would likely attend, however, is under capacity.

In the 2021-22 school year, 719 students were enrolled in Chiles, 762 students were enrolled in Hidden Oak and 804 students were enrolled in Meadowbrook, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. There were 521 students enrolled in Terwilliger that same year.

If the district goes forward with spot rezoning the four elementary schools, the School Board will revisit comprehensive rezoning for the next school year, said School Board Chair Tina Certain. The neighborhoods impacted by the initial spot rezoning, however, won’t be included in the next plan to rezone, she said.

Jessie Kelleher, a parent and teacher at an Alachua County charter school, said the possibility of revisiting comprehensive rezoning is concerning.

“We don't understand why it can't be done to everyone at the same time, so that we can all adjust, start fresh and move forward together as a community — not unsure of if it's going to be changed again 365 days later,” she said.

School Board Vice Chair Leanetta McNealy said it’s just as difficult to comprehensively rezone as it is to do spot rezoning.

“It’s always always ‘Please not my neighborhood,’” she said. “If it’s not spot rezoning and we are going to do comprehensive, are you going to feel any better if your child has to go to another school?”

History of rezoning in ACPS 

In the 2021-22 school year, some students from Idylwild Elementary School were moved to Metcalfe Elementary School for the same purposes — to equalize enrollment numbers, Certain said.

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“We had received a little bit of input,” she said, “but folks didn’t get frantic.”

The last time rezoning occurred in the county was in 1983 and then again in the 2002-03 school year when her children had to switch schools, Certain said.

“Our daughter ended up changing from Talbot [Elementary School] to Norton [Elementary School],” she said. “We had spent hundreds of hours invested in that school community, but it shook out like that.”

Hillsborough County, which includes cities like Tampa and Brandon, is also rezoning some of its schools, resulting in less than 15,000 students moving. 

Alachua County School Board Member Sarah Rockwell said that, unlike the ACPS rezoning, Hillsborough County’s plan won’t be in effect until August 2024. 

There should be tangible data the parents can see the next time the School Board meets for rezoning, she said.

“I can only imagine, if this was potentially going to impact my children, how I would feel coming to a meeting to give input and feeling like nobody provided me with any information,” Rockwell said.

Rockwell requested ACPS look into whether it can extend magnet school applications for parents unhappy with what school their child becomes zoned for. 

Timeline and next steps

Magnet school applications are currently closed, echoing another complaint parents cited: Some worry the timeline for rezoning is rushed.

Some parents said they don’t know if they trust this process to be completed by August — a sentiment school board member Kay Abbitt agreed with.

“It feels like we’re putting a band-aid on something,” she said. “Now, I’m even more concerned because I don’t want to wait another month or until the end of March to find out where we’re going with this.”

Abbitt also questioned why Chiles, Hidden Oak and Meadowbrook were chosen for the rezoning but not Newberry or Wiles, which are also overcapacity. 

Kindergarten round-up, a district event that brings pre-K students into their soon-to-be classrooms, is also looming, and many parents don’t know what to tell their children.

Nicole Duffy, an Alachua County parent, told her daughter she’s going to Kindergarten with her friend, she said, but that’s not promised now.

“I would love to be able to say with confidence to my daughter, ‘This is where you're going to be. This is going to be your second home or community,’” she said. “Now, all that’s kind of thrown up in the air.”

Maps are expected to be drawn April 6, interim Superintendent Shane Andrew said. The school board will host more workshops to hear from the public until then — the first being March 23 at Terwilliger at 5:30 p.m. 

Contact Lauren at Follow her on Twitter @LaurenBrensel.

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Lauren Brensel

Lauren Brensel is a journalism sophomore and a metro reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she's found going on mental health walks, being silly with friends, hiding from the public and reminding those around her that they did this song on Glee.

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