DeKalb school redistricting plans to be in place by late January

The last time the DeKalb County School District tried to change student attendance boundaries, the process bogged down into a yearlong battle with rowdy meetings and allegations of racism.

Now, with more changes underway, officials seem headed for more controversy. But this time parents won’t have a year to boil over.

Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson released her proposed charges last week and the school board is scheduled for an initial vote Monday with a final vote on the draft plans Jan. 23. That schedule — less than two months away interrupted by holidays — is longer than what officials were originally talking about: only one vote on Monday.

School board Chairman Eugene Walker acknowledged the public mistrust and frustration expressed in a flood of emails and phone calls and said Monday’s vote will merely initiate a planning process that includes parents.

“So please don’t bless me out anymore about me betraying you,” he told the crowd of about 50 on Thursday.

Many of them skipped work to attend the meeting, which was scheduled at 3:30 p.m., also a source of irritation. Those who couldn’t make childcare arrangements brought their toddlers.

“They thought they would catch us sleeping and they almost did,” an irritated Pyper Green said before the meeting. The secretary of the PTSA board at Southwest DeKalb High School, Green spent the week notifying parents about proposed school closures.

She was still angry after the meeting, which she described as a “smokescreen.” She predicts Monday’s vote will freeze most of the plans in place and that the ensuing weeks of parental involvement will be “just a formality.”

Atkinson, however, said changes can be made after even the draft is approved. A final vote is in May.

It’s unclear whether the changes will be significant enough to placate parents such as Lisa Lake. She was stunned to hear Midway Elementary School is slated to close. She is the PTA president of the South DeKalb school and sends her four children there.

“I hate it,” Lake said. “It’s completely ripping apart the community and you’re going to have an empty eyesore.”

Jennifer Hatfield, the PTA president at Evansdale Elementary on the county’s north side, was upset that her children will have to go to Tucker High instead of Lakeside High. She said she paid more money to buy a house near the better-performing Lakeside.

Hatfield suspected officials wanted to sneak the changes through.

“I think they wanted to intentionally not give us time to mobilize,” she said. She said a January deadline is still too soon.

Atkinson said the vote must occur by then to secure $40 million in state funding. The transfer was supposed to occur sooner but she negotiated a delay of several weeks with state officials. The plan was due a year ago.

Atkinson has already withdrawn one provocative proposal: closing three south DeKalb middle schools to save money and sending the students to high school campuses. The idea drew criticism from several board members last week.

Erika Watkins, whose daughter attends Chapel Hill Middle, said the transition to middle school was hard enough. Sending a sixth-grade girl to high school makes no sense, she said.

“There could be issues of bullying or older boys trying to hit on younger girls,” Watkins said. “I just don’t understand why anybody would think that would be a good idea.”

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