The student reassignment wars have returned to Wake County, with parents fighting the school system – and sometimes other parents – about where their children are assigned to go to school.
Wake’s annual struggle over determining where students go to school took a one-year hiatus when the school board decided not to move any children for the school year in progress. But with a new student assignment proposal on the table for 2015-16, parents are mobilizing again to try to block potential changes in where their children go to school.
“Keeping schools the same provides strong stability for our children,” Melissa Gilmore, a Wake Forest parent, said at a school board meeting earlier this month. “Children have far too many changing variables in their lives, and school changes do not need to be one of them. Taking children out of their current school isn’t good for their social, emotional or academic development.”
The lobbying will likely ramp up over the next few months as Wake comes closer to completing a new plan.
As a fast-growing district of 155,000 students, Wake County historically has reassigned thousands of students each year. In the mid- to late-2000s, high rates of growth led to mass reassignments and mandatory year-round schools, with unprecedented levels of opposition from the burgeoning suburbs that resulted in a 2009 change in board leadership.
The board decided not to make any changes for the 2014-15 school year in anticipation of this new plan.
Last month, school assignment staff unveiled the first draft of the plan that they say focuses primarily on filling new schools, reducing crowding at existing schools and reducing the number of families with children on different calendars. The plan mostly affects Apex, North Raleigh and Wake Forest.
Administrators have encouraged public comments, saying they would be used in a second draft released in October. Comments will continue to be factored in when an official plan is presented to the school board in November, with a vote expected in December.
School board member Susan Evans, who represents Apex, said she’s received far fewer comments on the assignment proposal than on a plan for converting the calendars for five schools. The board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on options for those five schools that include converting some to a year-round calendar and others to a traditional calendar.
“Considering the majority of changes in my district, I’m pleasantly surprised that there aren’t more (comments on the assignment plan),” she said
But Evans said she’s looked into the comments she’s received and believes that concerns such as those raised by the Haddon Hall community in Apex are valid.
Administrators have proposed reassigning Haddon Hall from traditional-calendar Baucom Elementary to year-round Salem Elementary. The change would put Haddon Hall on the same calendar as Salem Middle, the middle school to which they are now assigned.
But at the same time, Baucom would stop sending students to Salem Middle so that it could feed into traditional-calendar Apex Middle.
It’s part of a series of changes to reduce instability experienced by families that have siblings whose elementary and middle schools are on different calendars.
The draft says that Haddon Hall families who want a traditional calendar would be given Briarcliff and Penny Road elementary schools in Cary as options – but not Baucom.
“I agree it doesn’t make sense to change them when they’re within walking distance of Baucom,” Evans said.
The Haddon Hall families are arguing the changes go against the four pillars, or guiding principles, of the assignment policy – proximity, stability, operational efficiency and student achievement. Baucom parent Francine Shafeek said it makes more sense to give Haddon Hall calendar continuity by letting them stay at Baucom.
“We understand that this reassignment process is no small task, and we can appreciate the effort they’re putting into it,” Shafeek said. “We want to support their pillars, and we believe that leaving Haddon Hall supports those pillars. We want to work with them – not against them.”
Laura Evans, Wake’s senior director of student assignment, said that based on the feedback, it may be possible to change Haddon Hall’s traditional-calendar options to closer schools.
The Cary families assigned to Laurel Park Elementary are also citing the pillars to question changing their middle school from Salem Middle to Lufkin Road Middle.
Laurel Park parent Jennifer Teborek said going to Lufkin means students would have a longer bus ride, one that would route them past closer middle schools. Lufkin also starts classes 45 minutes earlier than Salem, so Teborek said students face getting up before dawn to catch the bus.
“There will be more busing,” she said. “Eleven-year-old kids won’t be doing as well when they’re getting up at 5:45 a.m., and (there’s) the fact that it’s four times as far. We have no idea why they’re moving us.”
Laura Evans said that the parents’ responses persuaded administrators that they should not have recommended that set of changes. She said that Laurel Park should remain assigned to Salem, and that Olive Chapel Elementary should remain assigned to Lufkin.
Some families may not be as lucky getting changes. Gilmore, the Wake Forest parent, had asked the board not to change the K-12 assignments for the Bishops Grant community. But Laura Evans said that Bishops Grant is surrounded by neighborhoods north of N.C. 98 that are proposed for reassignment.
Over the past month, school board members have heard parents suggest the reassignment of other children or threaten to pull their children from the school system.
“People are glad to reassign other people’s kids,” school board member Jim Martin said at the board meeting earlier this month. “That’s the one thing that’s just been very, very clear in all these emails, is we can always point the finger and do this to somebody else. We don’t want to do that.”