On Monday night, the Forsyth County Board of Education met with parents and community members at North Forsyth High School for the first public comment session on a redistricting plan that could reshape school attendance lines in north Forsyth over the coming year.
About 10 individuals representing different neighborhoods in the north Forsyth area spoke at the meeting, each with objections to part of the county’s redistricting plan that if approved would populate the county’s next elementary school, Poole’s Mill Elementary, and help relieve overcrowding at surrounding elementary schools.
According to Forsyth County Schools staff, the proposed redistricting would involve six different “moves” that would rearrange the attendance lines for five north Forsyth elementary schools, placing about 800 students at Poole’s Mill from other existing schools, and exchanging swaths of land so that other surrounding schools are below 100% capacity.
The largest group in attendance at the meeting was a contingent from Lake Forest and Cool Springs subdivisions off Hendrix Road in north Forsyth.
According to Ron Whitling, a Lake Forest resident who spoke on behalf of the group, their subdivisions would be affected by redistricting plan move 5, which involves moving 150 students from Coal Mountain Elementary to Matt Elementary.
"We understand that it's not the members of this board that approved the high-density development that's putting us in this situation, however the rezoning is not in the best interest of our children at Lake Forest and Cool Springs, and it's not in the best interest of Forsyth County,” Whitling said. “But we do want to work together with you guys and figure out a solution that works.”
He said that the group has several objections concerning the move, particularly the increased distance that parents and buses would need to travel in the morning to reach Matt Elementary from their area.
According to Whitling, the move would nearly double commutes to and from the school compared to where they are now.
"The 12-minute round trip drive that we make to Coal Mountain today has turned into a round trip that is 40 minutes or more," he said. "This places an unbearable burden on working parents.”
Whitling also said that they have concerns that the new bus routes to and from Matt Elementary would now involve a left turn onto Hwy. 369, which they consider dangerous due to traffic the highway regularly gets.
Others like Lindsey Neal from the Magnolia Creek subdivision echoed Whitling’s appeal to the board over the new bus and car routes that the redistricting would involve.
Neal stated that her subdivision has a very small population of elementary school students, about 10, and in the redistricting plan those students, who are currently at Silver City Elementary, would now go to Matt Elementary via a new route that is poised to experience construction for a development.
"I would like to request that Magnolia Creek stay in the Silver City district at this time,” Neal said. “I don't know about redistricting down the line. I don't know if we are going to be able to stay in Silver City forever. But at this juncture, with the construction, specifically, and the low number of kids we have" we’d like to stay.
Another concern voiced by several speakers concerned the elementary language program, Dual Language Immersion (DLI) and how it would be affected by the redistricting.
DLI is a language instructional program, where starting in kindergarten students are taught half the day in English and half the day in Spanish, with the end goal of graduating fully bilingual and biliterate students at the completion of high school.
One speaker told the board that her child is one of the 61 students that would be moved from Kelly Mill Elementary, which has a DLI program, to Sawnee Elementary School, which does not.
"One of the ways that they sold that to us was, 'This is a commitment that we expect our parents to honor, and we'll honor it,' and even though people will say, 'Well you can get an out of district waiver,’ that doesn't really work for transportation purposes," she said. "We would just hate to be pulled away from [DLI] because it's such a great program."
Many other residents expressed a concern for the future, asking the board what would happen with redistricting as the county completes East Forsyth High School, Hendricks Middle School and other future projects.
Residents asked how feeder patterns would change and if they moved schools with this redistricting whether they would be able to stay there for the foreseeable future.
"If this happens, what is the plan for the future?” asked Lake Forest resident Katie Schmoeckel. "Maybe we can proactively work together to figure out how we can make some of both of our wishes come true if this rezoning does happen?"
Near the end of the public comments, Board Chairwoman Kristin Morrissey addressed that question, stating that they don’t know yet how redistricting for East and Hendricks will affect the county but they have procedures in place to keep the county feeder patterns intact.
After all of the speakers were given a chance to speak, Morrissey reminded the gathered crowd that they are still receiving input from the online survey that was created to gather feedback on the proposed redistricting.Information from the public forum will be presented to the board for discussion at a work session on Nov. 12. The final redistricting map will go before the board for approval at their regularly scheduled meeting on Nov. 19.