Forsyth County parents seek delay to school redistricting plan

A group of parents filed a lawsuit to delay a school redistricting plan they say will send some high school students to a school several miles farther than two closer high schools.

The parent group, Citizens for Common Sense, also claims Forsyth County Schools' Redistricting Committee held secret meetings, never publicizing meeting times or keeping notes from those meetings.

“We just object to how this process was done,” parent Chris Reilly said Monday at a meeting with more than a dozen other parents.

District officials said Monday nothing has changed about the redistricting process, and that the decisions were made to remain efficient while tackling overcrowding.

“The intent is to fill a brand new, empty school and relieve overcrowding at existing schools,” Forsyth County Schools spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo said. “The criteria didn’t shift. It has been the same since at least 2008.”

Battles over redistricting are nothing new. Parents often voice frustration that they purchase homes and create plans for their children to attend certain schools, and that proposed moves in redistricting will add to a commute or tear a child away from activities and established friendships. School districts often site needs to alleviate or prevent overcrowding, often conceding the final decision won’t make everyone happy.

At issue in Forsyth County are plans that lay out who will attend the new Denmark High School, in southwest Forsyth County, when it opens in 2018. People have moved into Forsyth County in recent years for its proximity to Atlanta, high-performing schools and low property taxes, including a school-tax exemption for residents over 65. The county has doubled in size in less than 20 years according to census figures, from just under 100,000 residents in 2000 to more than 210,000 in 2017. The number of Forsyth County Schools students has increased 170 percent since 2001, Caracciolo said, with 47,000 enrolled this fall.

Some parents claim their children will pass by two other schools on their way to Denmark — South Forsyth and Lambert high schools. They are bothered that some communities were not affected in the redistricting, though those communities are closer to the new school.

An online survey from the district seeking feedback about the redistricting that received more than 4,000 responses cited student proximity to their schools as a top priority. The parent group feels those results were not factored into the decision.

“We believe proximity should be a primary criteria,” Reilly said.

Caracciolo said redistricting is done by study area. Software used by the district divides the county into sections, and recommendations are made based on where a student resides and projected enrollment in subsequent years.

She said the decisions were made to get students out of portable classrooms, citing the use of 40 at South Forsyth High School, 26 at West Forsyth High and 20 at Lambert High School. She disagreed that criteria for redistricting changed at any time in the process.

Caracciolo said the Redistricting Committee, of which she was part, was not bound by Georgia’s Open Meetings Act, as it was making recommendations to the superintendent, who would then make a recommendation to the school board in public meetings.

“The committee was an administrative staff committee,” she said. “It was not appointed nor was it approved by the board of education. I understand what they’re trying to say … but we’re just staff members that make a recommendation to the superintendent.”

Parent Terri Johnson said she’s gone through several redistricting efforts by the district with results that don’t always add up.

“They keep doing redistricting and it seems so off-the-cuff,” said Johnson, whose children will be affected. “I just want them to make smart decisions.”

Shannon Cox said Lambert High School is literally in her back yard, but her children, currently in the third and fifth grades, are being redistricted to attend Denmark.

“We purchased property that lines up to Lambert,” she said, adding that students currently walk a trail through her property to get to school. “I can hear the band play. I can hear when a touchdown is scored. It’s convenient. My husband and I both work. We don’t have the ability to transport them to activities, sports, Beta Club. I want them to have that.

“Logistically, it doesn’t make sense.”