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Some parents, teachers concerned over school district’s rezoning plan

An Alachua County school bus is seen in Gainesville, Fla. on April 18, 2023. (Brooke Johnson/ Fresh Take Florida)
An Alachua County school bus is seen in Gainesville, Fla. on April 18, 2023. (Brooke Johnson/ Fresh Take Florida)

Melissa Meadows is just one of the many parents perplexed by the Alachua County School District's recent plans.

The district proposed a comprehensive rezoning plan to minimize overcrowding and maximize capacity in county schools, and the proposal’s consequences are stirring up some debate.

Meadows' son Ansel is currently in third grade at Littlewood Elementary. Ansel has physical disabilities as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He has physical, occupational and speech therapy with his current school in addition to an established iep team and faculty members who understand him.

Meadows expressed frustration that she may have to start from square one with an unfamiliar team.

"We have worked so hard with our current school to establish what Ansel needs in the classroom to be successful,” Meadows said. “They know what's going to work for him. A new school will not be able to do that as well."

Meadows' concern does not end with her son. She recognized that there are many students with disability accommodation plans, and that no two kids are the same.

Meadows questioned the board on whether there will be any exemptions for students with disabilities, but the school board doesn't have a blanket policy set in stone.

Jackie Johnson, Alachua County Schools spokesperson, said exceptions based on disabilities will be made on a case-by-case basis.

The district has included in the plan a blanket policy for students in magnet programs who are going through the last year of their current school to stay where they are.

Meadows hopes that with all the changes and struggles Ansel will face, this will not be one of them.

"It's hard enough. They already have to move schools going into middle school, going into high school and going into college. Introducing an additional move to elementary school when things are sensitive is going to be really hard,” she said.

Andrea Mesa is a teacher at Hidden Oak Elementary School, and she has three main concerns with the rezoning's effects.

For one, Mesa said that relationships made over time are the foundation for both a successful student and teacher. In removing this foundation, Mesa said the sparkle is taken out of teaching and students’ experiences could be hindered.

“I think there are these connections all over the county that make teaching really special and easier for the teachers and the students,” Mesa said. “When you start thinking about this community that you have, and people being removed from this community, it’s just sad to move people who you have this long-standing relationship with.”

Her second concern is teacher turnover. Mesa said teachers already have a lot of responsibility, and some may not want to go back to the drawing board and lose long-standing connections.

“Amazing teachers are kind of at a breaking point with how much responsibility is on their shoulders. We have to learn lots of new families, and there’s possibly going to be new behavioral problems that are coming in,” she said. “We don’t know the families. We don’t know these kids. If they had been there since kindergarten, it would be a lot easier.”

Lastly, concerning economically disadvantaged students, Mesa thinks the board should spread students out with financial status in mind because she believes it impacts the success of the student.

“It's a lot harder to work with students who are coming from an economically disadvantaged neighborhood. They probably are going to require response to intervention, which is more one-on-one and small group time. If you have a majority of economically disadvantaged students, it's harder to make a difference for those students,” Mesa said.

The district's proposal has not been finalized, but a final reading and vote will be held on Jan. 11.

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