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Albemarle School Board OKs redistricting

After saying how pained they were by the decision, the Albemarle County School Board voted unanimously to approve a redistricting recommendation that has upset some parents.

Thursday’s vote comes seven months after the board asked for a committee to study current district boundaries, an effort to address overcrowding at certain schools and decreased enrollment at others.

The committee was asked to find a way to decrease enrollment at Baker-Butler and Woodbrook elementary schools while increasing enrollment at Stony Point Elementary.

It was also asked to finalize the location of a new school, what’s being called the Northern Feeder Pattern Elementary School. It settled on the North Pointe area just north of Charlottesville city limits. The school is expected to open in 2029.

“When schools are overcapacity we are not able to provide the best instructional environment,” Rosalyn Schmitt, chief operating officer for Albemarle County Public Schools, told The Daily Progress in July. “We have to utilize mobile classrooms, which increases distance kids have to travel to go to other parts of the building, and we just want them in our buildings, in permanent spaces.”

The committee hosted four community meetings to hear feedback from parents. And in February, parents of affected communities were asked to fill out a survey that the committee could factor into its research.

“Survey participants will be asked to express their level of support for the proposed scenarios and will be provided an opportunity to leave additional thoughts to share with the committee,” according to the school division website.

But after the unanimous vote, parents upset by the decision felt that their feedback had not been considered.

A number of parents from the Cascadia subdivision in the Pantops area told The Daily Progress they don’t believe the redistricting proposal will do what it’s intended to do. Many parents, they say, will put their children into private school or home school them rather than have them attend Stony Point, thus limiting enrollment at the division’s smallest school.

The committee consisted of representatives from each school affected by the study. Baker-Butler had four representatives while the other schools each had two.

On Feb. 12, the committee made its recommendation to school division Superintendent Matthew Haas who approved it and then presented it to the board on Feb. 22.

School board members were then inundated with emails and comments from community members both in support and opposition to the proposal. Meanwhile, some parents organized, with nearly 200 parents in Cascadia signing a petition against the committee’s recommendation.

But it wasn’t enough to convince the board.

“Someone spoke to us about having a child with autism and how it was going to be difficult to move schools. That struck me because my daughter was redistricted from Agnor-Hurt to Woodbrook many years ago,” Rio District representative Chuck Pace said Thursday before the vote. “It was not easy, but it did work.”

Many school board members repeatedly said that the committee had put significant work into the study and that they trusted the committee’s and the superintendent’s judgement. They also said that they understood some parents would not agree with their decision.

“I totally respect the parents in this room whose families are impacted. It’s your job to vigorously advocate for them, and I totally respect that. But our job is the bigger picture,” Jack Jouett District representative Kate Acuff said.

At-large member Allison Spillman said she’d lost sleep over the decision and wished that the school board had been involved earlier in the process, because it was a significant amount of information to consider.

Judy Le, school board chairwoman, drew the ire of several parents in her Rivanna District.

“It feels predetermined, and it felt like our representative wasn’t actually hearing us and didn’t want to hear us,” said one parent who asked not to be named. “She was not as available as other school representatives. She didn’t hear our concerns about the data.”

As board chair, Le usually speaks last during board discussions. But she changed that norm on Thursday, choosing to speak first because the communities being discussed are part of her district. In addition to reading every email she’s received, Le said she had met with community and committee members and spoken with people who had overseen redistricting in the past.

Le said she understood why some parents were upset by the prospect of moving from their current school to Stony Point.

“And if for a second I believed that Stony Point was in any way inferior, I might be compelled by more of those arguments. But I spend a lot of time in Stony Point, and I know it too is a wonderful school. It has a thriving community of educators, families and staff who care so much about their kids. It is small, and it is mighty,” Le said. “And to that point, I want to be clear that if any of us believes that Stony Point, or any school for that matter, is not good enough for some group of our kids, then it is not good enough for any kids.”

She then mentioned an argument she has heard: that some schools should not be “hurt” when by redistricting when they are currently doing just fine. Le didn’t buy into that argument, she said, because Albemarle County Public Schools is a community of schools.

“We are one body together. There’s no reason that Stony Point should have difficulty staffing because of its size. There’s no reason that Baker-Butler should continue bursting at the seams. And the recommendation Dr. Haas made for us is the most equitable way to do the things we need to do,” Le said.


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