Lambert High School sophomores Ella Mehok, Erin Hanley and Erica Stohl gripped each other’s hands as they awaited the Forsyth County Board of Education’s decision regarding the county’s school redistricting map.
As board members Ann Crow, Nancy Roche, Tom Cleveland and Darla Light raised their hands, signaling their vote to approve it, tears streamed down the girls’ faces.
The board approved a final draft of the county’s school redistricting map Tuesday night at its regular meeting with a 4-1 vote. Chairwoman Kristin Morrissey’s was the sole dissenting vote.
“[The board] knows junior year is hard — everyone says junior year is the hardest year of high school,” Hanley said. “That’s when you’re trying to figure out your life … I thought going into this [meeting,] maybe they’ll be flexible … it’s just not fair that we have to [leave] the school we’ve been at for two years.”
The issue has garnered attention the last two-and-a-half months, going so far as to prompt a lawsuit from a group of parents who live in southern Forsyth County who allege the process has not been transparent.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Forsyth County Superior Court on Monday afternoon, sought an injunction ahead of the board’s vote. Though it was not granted, it is not yet known what, if any, result will come of the action.
In addition, Christopher Adams of Krevolin and Horst LLC — the attorney representing Citizens for Common Sense and other specified plaintiffs in the lawsuit — sent a letter to the state Attorney General’s office on Nov. 9 regarding the redistricting matter.
The letter alleged the district held meetings where no public notice was given and claimed no minutes were kept, which he said were open meetings and open records act violations.
School spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo previously said the meetings in question were administrative staff meetings, which are exempt from the Georgia open meetings act.
Tuesday’s decision, which will affect high school students at South Forsyth, West Forsyth and Lambert high schools, means 226 students will be moved to Denmark High School from West and 1,624 will become Denmark Danes instead of South War Eagles.
To fill in some of the gap left by the South chunk moving to Denmark, the redistricting committee also recommended moving 318 students from Lambert to South.
The new numbers mean West would start the 2018 school year with 2,405 students, Lambert with 2,656, South with 2,305 and Denmark with 1,750. West would remain over capacity at 114.5 percent, Lambert at 108.4 percent capacity, South at 96 percent capacity and Denmark at 70 percent capacity.
Denmark will not open with a senior class.
In addition, several elementary schools will be affected.
Silver City Elementary, which is over capacity, is set to lose 375 students to Chestatee Elementary, while 124 would be moved from Chestatee to Chattahoochee to even out numbers.
With these projections, Silver City would open with 1,067 students, Chestatee with 1,224 students and Chattahoochee with 904.
Board members have reiterated that the process, which began in early September, is a difficult one.
“I think we all entered this process hoping for the best resolution but realizing it was going to be difficult to achieve,” Morrissey said. “Finding a balance between reaching the right number of students at Denmark and also reducing overcrowding at our existing schools has been very hard.”
She went on to say that the school board needs to “ensure quality and equity at each of our schools, but we also must balance the reality of what we are dealing with, [and that] is real students and not just numbers on a map.”
Those students said Tuesday’s decision means they’re going to have to rethink their identities.
“We’re Lambert Longhorns,” Hanley said. “Since we were at Sharon [Elementary] we have been and they know that. Everyone at Sharon is [told,] ‘you’re going to be a future Longhorn,’ and now we’re not. Maybe the [South students] won’t know we’re from Lambert but it’s still walking into a whole new school. I don’t think we’re actually going to get mistreated because we’re from Lambert, but its knowing we’re [rivals.]”
Stohl added being redistricted to Denmark would have been a better choice than being moved to South.
“I would rather go to Denmark, a brand new school, than another existing school,” she said. “It sucks that the people you grew up knowing — you’re not going to be able to walk at graduation with them. You’ll [be] walking down with people who you don’t even know.”
District 3 board member Tom Cleveland said Tuesday he recognized the process was an emotional one.
“We’ve all been through this and it’s a very traumatic, emotional time for our kids,” he said. “We understand that.”
He, along with other board members, have previously said they are looking at the overall picture though, which is to populate Denmark High School and reduce overcrowding at existing schools.
In addition to voting on the map, the board chose not to alter a sibling policy they had previously indicated they would change. The modification would have amended FCS’ policy regarding the grandfathering in of younger students who currently have older siblings attending county high schools.
Tuesday night’s action was the final vote on redistricting, although it was unclear whether there will be further action regarding the lawsuit.