Tensions ran high at a Forsyth County Board of Education meeting Tuesday night where board members unanimously voted to approve a draft of the county’s school redistricting map.
The draft, which Deputy Superintendent of Schools Joey Pirkle first presented to the board on Sept. 12, was changed slightly last week following one modification the redistricting committee decided upon after receiving residents’ feedback and looking at the school numbers.
The changes extend the line from Ronald Reagan Boulevard south of Major’s Road to Shiloh Road and McFarland Parkway and the approved draft shows 226 students will be moved to Denmark from West, and 1,604 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 389 students from Lambert to South.
Each school has a capacity of 2,400 students, and should these numbers remain, the redistricting would start the 2018 school year at West with 2,405 students, Lambert with 2,585 and South with 2,436.
In addition, several elementary schools would be affected.
Silver City Elementary, which is over capacity, would lose 358 students to Chestatee Elementary, while 122 would be moved from Chestatee to Chattahoochee to even out numbers.
With these projections, Silver City would open with 1,067 students, Chestatee at 1,209 students and Chattahoochee 902.
The overwhelming majority of attendees at Tuesday’s public participation meeting were South and Lambert High School parents, many of whom argued the redistricting committee should have considered residents’ proximity to schools when drawing the map.
Last week, Pirkle said while many residents’ complaints centered on proximity to school — several communities have held “Walk to School” protests to demonstrate the short distances to their current schools – proximity and issues related to proximity “did not override the six primary objectives that we have listed that we were using to redistrict and achieve those things we have listed.”
“I think we have so much information and I think sometimes — and I’ve been in government since I was 18 years old — we get so down deep in the weeds that we don’t look at some of the obvious. The common sense of location should be a factor in the decision but [I know] we have to proceed so I guess I’ll call for a motion and take a vote."Board of Education chairwoman Kristin Morrissey
A number of south Forsyth residents said they did not accept this reasoning.
“In all due respect, I think proximity should play a huge role in how we district kids to our high schools,” said Bart Smith, a south Forsyth resident. “As a gentleman mentioned [previously,] we make decisions on where we buy homes and where we move based upon the schools, and no doubt, Denmark High School will be just as fantastic as South, Lambert, Central and West.
“All the high schools have proven to be huge resources and huge benefits to our community and this has nothing to do with, ‘we don’t want to attend a new high school.’ It’s that the location of the high school does not fit with our community. Where we are located, proximity as to what we do – our families, our jobs, church, school — is all very important and where Denmark High School is located is not anywhere near that community.”
Elizabeth Pearson, a South Forsyth High School mom, broke down the numbers in an attempt to show board members why she said proximity should matter.
“My neighborhood is 0.8 miles from South Forsyth High School,” she said. “I live just off of Stoney Point Road. We got in a car on a day there was zero traffic and we videotaped it, and it took us, to drive that eight tenths of a mile, one minute and thirty seconds; that’s three minutes to the school and back.
“In that same day, we got in the car right after that and drove over to Denmark, which is 6.5 miles away for those that are on the Stoney Point corridor, and you know what? It took us, without any traffic, 15 minutes to get there, and we know there will be increased traffic as evident by the number of homes going up and the businesses along those corridors. It took us 15 minutes there, 15 minutes back; that’s a total of 30 minutes in the morning without traffic.”
After doing the math, Pearson said, it would take an hour “to drive our kids to school in one day, without any traffic.”
“In a year’s time, we figured it out, to drive to Denmark, it will take those on the Stoney Point corridor a minimum of 180 hours in our car, just to get to Denmark — that’s with no traffic,” she said, “and then you think of the number of [additional] hours on the bus.
“We did the same numbers driving to South. In comparison, all it took to get to South was 18 hours in an entire year. That’s 162 hours of drive time difference to drive to Denmark and, as I mentioned, extraordinarily more on the bus. Adding an hour, minimum, of drive time per day is not conducive to the overall health and safety of our children.”
Board of Education chairwoman Kristin Morrissey said some speakers’ arguments resonated with her but that she was “in the minority” when she said she was “not satisfied with the map as it is right now.”
“I think we have so much information and I think sometimes — and I’ve been in government since I was 18 years old — we get so down deep in the weeds that we don’t look at some of the obvious,” she said. “The common sense of location should be a factor in the decision but [I know] we have to proceed so I guess I’ll call for a motion and take a vote.
Added Morrissey: “My vote tonight is not necessarily what my vote will be in the future; I’ll just say that.”
Morrissey ultimately voted, along with her fellow board members, to approve the draft, but said she was doing it to move the process along to public forums that will take place next week.
The first public forum will be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 23 for elementary school redistricting only at North Forsyth High School, with the second scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 24 at West Forsyth High School.
The final redistricting draft will be approved in November, ahead of the Dec. 1-Jan. 19 window where out of district forms will be accepted.