NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A New Hanover County Board of Education work session was held Tuesday to hear public comments about the ongoing high school redistricting plan, which would move about 700 students to new high schools in the 2018-2019 school year.
"Redistricting is the most gut-wrenching job we have to do," said Edward B. Higgins Jr., chair of the New Hanover County School Board of Education.
The room was packed with parents, students, and concerned citizens who were largely opposed to the current rezoning maps proposed by the board.
"It would be very difficult to have to make all new relationships with kids my age and administrators and teachers, to help me carry on my high school career and do the best work I can," said sophomore John Skelton, who will have to change high schools if the current map draft passes.
"Give us flexibility and choices. You can redraw the lines, but give us an option basically to continue where we are until we finish," said Marshall Skelton, John's father. "We don't want to be redistricted midway through high school."
After considering comments from Tuesday's meeting and those submitted online, Higgins said changes will be made to the current redistricting maps, including modifications to the Forest Hills and Glenn Meade neighborhoods.
The chairman said it is possible the board could meet in a public session to debate the redistricting lines. Another option is for Assistant Superintendent Eddie Anderson to update the maps and send out revised copies to the board.
Several parents raised concerns that the proposed zoning maps worsen racial and socioeconomic divisions in New Hanover County.
"I think as a community we can't continue to warehouse our high poverty children into islands of their own because it's for the detriment of not only those students, but our entire community," said Gina Fimbel, a parent at the meeting.
"If we start moving kids for socioeconomic reasons, those who get moved for that reason are going to be just as angry as those who get moved because they happen to live in this particular neighborhood," said Higgins. "Damned if you do, damned if you don't."
The chair said final student assignments will be mailed in March. Then, families have 10 days to appeal the decision if they wish to attend a different high school.
In so-called "senior privilege," rising high school seniors can choose to remain at their current school if facing redistricting. Higgins said students can also request to remain at their current school if the new assignment does not offer a certain program the student is involved in.
"I pledge to re-read, to think about what you've said, and do my very best to see if we can't balance out the numbers without disrupting so many," said Jeannette S. Nichols, Board of Education vice chair.
As it stands now, middle schools in New Hanover County won't undergo redistricting until the 2019-2020 school year.
The timeline has been changing over the last several months after board members weighed factors including budget, school construction, and student population.
Earlier this month, Anderson presented a revised redistricting plan, which is embedded in the PDF below.
High School Redistricting Timeline:
- January 9, 2018 – First review by the Board of Education
- January 12, 2018 – High school redistricting maps posted at middle & high schools and online for public comment
- January 12 through February 20, 2018 – Public comment period
- January 23, 2018 – Public Comment at Board of Education Work Session
- February 6, 2018– Second review by the Board of Education
- February 20, 2018 – Final approval by the Board of Education
- February 2018 – The redistricting plan is released.
- March 2018 – Student assignment for new attendance areas.
- August 2018 – New attendance areas in effect for high schools.
The discussion will continue at the board's next regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 6.
Public comments are being accepted online and maps and comment cards are also available at all traditional middle and high schools in the county.