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The APS Redistricting Debate: Fair Process Or Not?

In redistricting options, some see race, class, historical neighborhood divisions as shaping new maps.

For Atlanta Public Schools, the driving factor in the ongoing redistricting debate is green: The district of roughly 49,000 students says it's fiscally irresponsible to keep some schools open when they're less than half full, while others are so overcrowded, that students' are forced to learn in trailers.

But some parents of East Atlanta Patch see the discussion squarely in terms of black and white: Those neighborhoods that are majority black are bearing the brunt of the changes, while majority white communities are being left alone.

The redistricting options presented by the demographers last week, in those parents' view, further divides APS into a system of haves vs. and have-nots, desirable schoolchildren vs. shunned ones.

Indeed, at a meeting Monday night of parents in the schools that feed to Jackson and Grady high schools, parents in the Old Fourth Ward said their kids' needs are being made secondary to those of more affluent Inman Park, Candler Park and Lake Claire.

The two options have children in Old Fourth Ward who now attend Hope-Hill Elementary — their neighborhood school — merging with Cook Elementary in the Capitol Gateway neighborhood. One of the two would close and students would attend the other.

The APS Redistricting Debate So Far:
  • APS needs to remap school attendance zones because some schools are overcrowded, others sit half empty.
  • The district anticipates some neighborhoods will experience baby booms and the rezoning of schools, which includes new facilities construction, is aimed at proactively managaging that growth.
  • APS contracted with consulting firm Bleakly Advisory Group — the same firm that advised DeKalb County in its redistricting last year — to draw up some prosposals.
  • In November, Bleakly presented four options for .
  • After more than 8,200 comments and 800 e-mails in December, the demographers in late January released .
  • Also in January, APS Supt. Erroll B. Davis Jr. presented he wants the final proposal to follow.
  • Davis is expected to make his recommendations on a final map to APS' Board of Education in April.
  • In the interim, APS and several parent groups are , learn more about the thinking behind them and help shape the final outcome.
  • The Board is expected to vote in April or May and the changes would be implemented by the start of the 2012-13 academic year.

But at Monday night's meeting, Old Fourth Ward parents said the move to merge two largely predominantly black schools is nothing short of segregation.

Parents from Inman Park, Lake Claire and Candler Park, whose children attend Mary Lin Elementary, said race and class are not the driving factors for why they don't want to be rezoned from their school.

Those parents said their primary objective is to stay at a school their neighborhoods spent many years reforming and that their children can walk to.

The demographers' two options have Mary Lin — which is overcrowded — adding an additional 176 seats or having two campuses with the K-5 grades being split between the school and Toomer Elementary in neighboring Kirkwood.

The options have even created some intra-neighborhood tensions or exacerbated existing ones.

For example, in Kirkwood, one option splits the neighborhood in two, creating a scenario that would have some neighborhood children ultimately attending the more desirable Grady High School in Midtown, and the rest going to Jackson High School in Grant Park.

Meanwhile, some East Lake parents are upset because both options has East Lake Elementary closing; their children would go to schools in Kirkwood or East Atlanta Village.

Some East Lake Elementary parents feel abandoned by others in the neighborhood who send their children to .

Parents and those thinking about having children in some neighborhoods, such as Cabbagetown, feel like they've been forgotten altogether.

In last night's meeting and other redistricting discussions, Cabbagetown residents, who are currently zoned for the underperforming Cook Elementary, say APS doesn't give their concerns as much weight or consideration as those from larger neighborhoods.

Those parents have said they've no option but to send their children to private schools or move to Decatur.

John Rick February 01, 2012 at 01:20 PM
My wife and I are 21+ year parents of the APS system and our three childen all graduated from Grady High School. We no longer have children in the APS system, but all of our friends and neighbors do. We are appalled by the APS demographers approach to solving the re-districting problems. The demographers are trying to re-segregate the Grady Cluster and I know for a fact that the great majority of Grady Cluster parents do not want that. The neighborhoods need to stand up together and make priorty #1 be that the Grady Cluster remaind the diverse poplation that it is and that makes it so meanful to our children and to their learning enviroment. As was pointed out at the SRT-3 meeting, there are several simple solutions to the situation, and APS must look at those options; not the absurd demographer's solutions
Péralte Paul February 01, 2012 at 02:06 PM
A few parents made that observation at Monday's meeting, John. Something I've heard at other meetings is that one reason Grady is so crowded is because there's a large number of students who go there who aren't zoned for the cluster. They've also said APS needs to do a better job of policing those students going to Grady without proper waivers or in-zone status. I'm not sure how APS is about doing that. I attended grammar and secondary schools in New York and New Jersey. Both states were hard-core about kicking students out who weren't zoned for a particular district — unless they paid the out-of-zone tuition. Some of the NJ towns even assigned personnel solely to the task of finding those kids.
Nick February 01, 2012 at 06:11 PM
I'm curious, what do parents/advocates for Hope-Hill propose? Same for East Lake? It seems like the "easiest" "fix" is to make them both Charters? Is that possible?
Nick February 01, 2012 at 10:21 PM
Nevermind, got my answer! http://eastatlanta.patch.com/articles/the-aps-redistricting-debate-fourth-ward-neighbors-response-to-the-two-options

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