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Parents raise concerns about proposed redrawing of Alachua County Public Schools zones

School Board members Leanetta McNealy, Diyonne McGraw, Kay Abbitt, Sarah Rockwell and Tina Certain (left to right) listen to parents of Alachua County Public Schools students speak their thoughts on rezoning public schools. (Zarin Ismail/WUFT News)
School Board members Leanetta McNealy, Diyonne McGraw, Kay Abbitt, Sarah Rockwell and Tina Certain (left to right) listen to parents of Alachua County Public Schools students speak their thoughts on rezoning public schools. (Zarin Ismail/WUFT News)

Melissa Meadows stood before members of the School Board of Alachua County Tuesday to weigh in on the proposed new districtwide school zones.

“This is my son, Ansel,” Meadows, a parent of a third-grade Littlewood Elementary School student, said to the School Board members. “He’s physically disabled.”

Meadows said her son, Ansel, is in an individualized education program because he has a physical disability and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The proposed rezoning map would require Ansel to move from Littlewood to Glen Springs Elementary School. Meadows said changing schools would be extremely disruptive for Ansel and his family and members of Ansel’s IEP team.

“We have physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy,” Meadows said. “How are these kids with disabilities going to do in terms of having to switch up their entire care team?"

Meadows was among other parents who expressed their concerns about the School Board’s proposal to redraw school attendance zones for all elementary, middle and high schools. The proposed school rezoning map was released online Thursday. The new zones will be finalized in December of 2023 and take effect for the 2024-25 school year.

In the meantime, the Alachua County School Board is holding community input sessions before the new zones are finalized. These are in addition to the required meetings to review and adopt the new attendance zones. The schedule of meetings is posted on the Alachua County Public Schools website alongwith frequently asked questions and other information.
The rezoning would balance student enrollment and capacity in public schools and optimize school facilities, transportation and personnel, said Anntwanique Edwards, the School Board’s equity, inclusion and community engagement chief.

Though the School Board made no changes to the proposed middle and high school zoning maps, data provided by the School Board shows that five elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools would still be over capacity with the proposed rezoning. One of these schools includes Littlewood.

The last time Alachua County Public Schools rezoned the entire district was 1983, according to the Alachua County Public Schools website. Only limited rezoning has been done since then.

In those 40 years, the county has seen dramatic changes, including population growth, new development, migration within the county, and school choice options such as magnet schools, charter schools, and school vouchers that have affected school populations.
Chris Rader, Ansel’s father, also attended the community input session. He said sending his son to Glen Springs would require them to leave home a half hour earlier, which means Ansel would lose the sleep he needs to function throughout the day.

“I don’t know how he’s going to do,” Rader said.

Valerie Gregoire-Miller, a parent of a kindergarten student at Littlewood Elementary School, said she moved to the Suburban Heights neighborhood so her son would be zoned to go to Littlewood, which is a mile from her home, and attend its multiage program.

With the new zoning map proposal, she said she would have to send her child to a school four miles away from her house.

“The 15-minute drive will now be an hour,” she told the School Board. “It just doesn’t make sense to rezone.”

Gregoire-Miller said she lives in a one-car household, and her husband uses the car for work. She said she wouldn’t consider having her child take the bus to school because the nearest school bus stop is a mile away from her house, and she noticed school buses arriving late.

Renee Rogers, a parent of two students at Littlewood, said she also moved to Suburban Heights to send her children to Littlewood. As a working parent, she said she wanted to alleviate timing issues of dropping off and picking up her children by putting them in Littlewood’s after-school program.

But with the new zoning proposal, Rogers said her children will have to change schools and lose the benefits that come with attending Littlewood.

“That’s very nerve-wracking because we won’t have an after-school plan for them,” she said.

Maureen LaTour, a Gainesville resident, said she has watched public school rezoning in Alachua County for the past 45 years. She said it wasn’t until she saw the new zoning map proposal that she decided to come to one of the School Board’s community input sessions.

“I understand rezoning has to be done,” LaTour said to the School Board. “I’ve lived here long enough to know the inequities.”

But she said rezoning would worsen students’ mental health, diversity efforts and teacher and bus driver shortages.

“How is that right?” she asked.

Jackie Johnson, the Alachua County Public Schools communications director, said the proposal isn’t final.

“There are … so many moving parts that we have to consider,” Johnson said. “Getting public input has been an important part of that.”

She said the School Board members won’t be able to make every parent happy but said she recognizes that families deal with their own individual situations.

The School Board plans to make a final vote on rezoning maps on Dec. 5. It will hold a workshop meeting on Monday, Oct. 16. The first reading of the zoning proposal is on Oct. 17, and a public hearing on rezoning is scheduled for the Nov. 14 board meeting before making the final decision Dec. 5.

“There are more opportunities for people to speak,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to finalize anything until we’ve had a chance to hear from the public.”


Zarin is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.