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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Alachua County School Board moves not to amend school zone boundaries

In a 4-1 vote, policy 5120.01 amendments will not be adopted

<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.

The Alachua County School Board voted against rezoning the existing school boundaries for the 2025-2026 school year in a special hearing Thursday night. 

Superintendent Shane Andrew opened the meeting by asking the school board not to go forward with amending policy 5120.01, which would change school zone assignments in an effort to balance under- and over-enrollment discrepancies in the district. 

He cited other ongoing issues within the district that need to be resolved before finalizing the comprehensive rezoning plan. 

Starting Jan. 16, bus routes adjustments will go into effect. School vouchers, scholarship development for the Personalized Education Program and the ongoing refinement of magnet school enrollment policies will all impact student enrollment in the district, he said. 

“Students at these schools are reaching a crucial point of stabilization that may be compromised by changes in their attendance zones,” Andrew said.

He mentioned several schools, such as Littlewood Elementary and Meadowbrook Elementary, are operating over 100% capacity. Several board members brought attention to East Gainesville schools, which are under-enrolled.   

The district will continue to work on rezoning plans for the 2025-2026 school year, Andrew said. 

“Rezoning work will not cease and will continue to be an ongoing priority for the school district,” he said. “Alachua County Public School staff need time to continue with all of the aforementioned work on behalf of our students without the uncertainty of rezoning for the 2024-2025 school year.”

Eight citizens spoke at the meeting, with a majority in opposition of the rezoning plan.

In her public comment, Ann Stoy, a Fletcher's Mill resident, felt “a bit more at ease” with Andrew’s motion. 

“To say I’m disappointed in the effort the district has put into the rezoning so far is an understatement,” she said. “Everyone on this board campaigned on a more equitable education for all. In the maps drawn, give little regard, wasn’t in the best interest of all children.”

Stoy urged the board to bring in a third-party to create “data-driven maps,” providing equitable education as their campaigns promised.

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Jordan Marlowe, Newberry mayor and a teacher at Newberry High School, expressed a positive attitude toward Andrew’s motion. 

“I can tell you from experience that the discipline in my classroom — in my school — this year is heads and shoulders better than it was last year,” he said. “When you make a lot of big changes, all at the same time, it gets a little difficult to differentiate what’s working and what’s not.” 

Marlowe asked the board to continue work on the initiatives in enrollment they are currently developing before continuing with rezoning measures. He brought the board’s attention back to the city of Newberry’s wish for a new school.

“We need more schools in the west part of Alachua County,” Marlowe said. 

The board members shared split opinions on the timeline of rezoning plans. School board members Sarah Rockwell and Tina Certain urged their peers that rezoning is a critical issue needing to be addressed.

Rockwell cited issues such as students eating lunch at 9:30 a.m., schools without room for the addition of more portable classrooms and safety concerns in overcrowded hallways. 

“They [students] cannot afford for us to pause,” she said.

Board members Leanetta McNealy, Kay Abbitt and Diyonne McGraw are in favor of spending more time working on the rezoning maps and exploring other options to provide equitable education at every school. 

Abbitt believes rezoning will not fix the inequity and under-enrollment issues in East Gainesville. 

“We’ve got to look outside the box,” she said.

Teachers in under performing schools face more challenges beyond capacity discrepancies, Abbitt said. 

“When you’re a teacher in a school where kids are struggling it’s much more complicated, yet they're not only trying to teach kids who are struggling. There’s misbehavior because they [schools] have failed for so long in their life,” she said.

After the board members discussed their views, the meeting adjourned with a 4-1 decision to postpone rezoning plans, with hopes from board member chair Diyonne McGraw to implement changes in time for the 2025-2026 school year.

Contact Megan Howard at Follow her on X @meganmhxward.

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Megan Howard

Megan Howard is a second-year journalism major and the K-12 Education reporter for The Alligator. When she's not writing, you can find her rewatching the Eras Tour movie or reading The Hunger Games series.

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