Parents oppose planned rezoning



APS Superintendent, Dr. Meria Carstarphen, led a meeting on the proposed rezoning of approximately 100 students from the Grady cluster to the North Atlanta cluster to alleviate overcrowding at Morningside Elementary on Tuesday Nov. 28.

By Scout McDaniel and Selena Kleber

Angry parents packed the Morningside Elementary auditorium Nov. 28 in opposition of a proposed rezoning  of the Armour Drive and Cheshire Bridge Road areas that would shift 100 students from the Grady cluster to the North Atlanta cluster.

Atlanta Public Schools held the meeting after sending affected parents letters just before the Thanksgiving break announcing the rezoning.

Supereintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen spent the start of the meeting flipping through slides with maps and numbers showing projected growth around the BeltLine and inner city Atlanta. That projected growth impacts the Midtown schools in the Grady cluster.

With overcrowding of  Morningside, Inman Middle School and Grady, Dr. Carstarphen proposed the plan to draw a line on Armour Drive and the Cheshire Bridge Road corridor. The plan splits up the attendance zone for residents living in the Manchester community near Cheshire Bridge.

The families in the Armour Drive area would be rezoned from Morningside, Inman and Grady to E. Rivers Elementary School, Sutton Middle School and North Atlanta High School. Students in the Cheshire Bridge area would be rezoned to Garden Hills Elementary, Sutton and North Atlanta. Students enrolled in Grady cluster schools as of Dec. 4 can remain in the cluster until they graduate their current school. New enrollees after Dec. 4, including younger siblings, must attend the schools feeding into North Atlanta.

“The boom that has been happening in Atlanta has contributed to more kids, which is a good problem to have,” said Matt Westmoreland, the District 3 representative for the Atlanta Board of Education. “We want people to choose our neighborhood school, but when more of them choose to come and we have limited seats, it presents challenges that we’ve been trying to figure out. The way you solve that challenge is you either build more seats or you have to move people. Those are your two options.”

The meeting allowed parents to ask questions and give their perspective on the situation. A major concern was the lack of communication to the Grady cluster by APS. While APS may have been developing the proposal for years, this was the first time many of the parents heard of the rezoning. With a vote set on the plan on Dec. 4, many parents were upset by this short notice.

“I only found out when I read the AJC (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) this morning,” Morningside parent Keith Cyr said. “Everybody is impacted by this in the school; everyone should be notified. You can’t do that and say ‘Oh, and hey, we’re going to have a vote on Monday on whether your future is impacted.’”

Parents did not appear satisfied as the proposed plan was commonly referred to as a small “band aid” on a bigger issue. Parents had ideas about the ideal solutions. A delay in the school board’s planned vote seemed to be a popular option.

“I would absolutely love a delay, so at least we can get more dialogue going,” Morningside parent Jeff Zweben said. “I would like to see the area exempt. When we say exempt, we mean specific communities, as opposed to the area in general.”

Relief options to alleviate overcrowding are already in place. The old Howard High School is being transformed into a middle school, and Inman will then be transformed into an elementary school. North Atlanta PTA members in attendance expressed concerns that the rezoning would simply push the overcrowding problem to their area.

Dr. Carstarphen said she went into the meeting anticipating an emotional response. One parent said she had just put a $500,000 downpayment on her home with the expectation that she would be sending her kids to the Grady cluster, not across the city to North Atlanta, which is almost on the Cobb County border.

Parents did not find it feasible or reasonable to transport their children long distances to school when it is much more desirable to be in the community within walking distance. Even after Audrey Sofianos, Morningside principal and former North Atlanta principal, assured everyone the North Atlanta cluster includes highly-acclaimed schools, parents said they would have chosen a Buckhead neighborhood zoned for the North Atlanta cluster if they had wanted to be in that high school’s feeder pattern.

More than an hour past the meeting’s set end time, parents were still furiously speaking and proposing their own plans. Dr. Carstarphen responded that she would sit down and hold a “debrief meeting” with the APS school board, as she could not just “yank this event off the agenda.” It is now in the hands of the school board to decide the students’ fate.

“I appreciate everyone coming out and voicing their thoughts, concerns and ideas,” Westmoreland said. “I think they made a lot of good points about the way that the communication could have been handled better … a little more tight. I continue to believe that we have got to figure out the best strategy to help with short-term capacity challenges in the cluster, specifically at this school [Morningside].”

Parents in question and answer portion of the APS community rezoning meeting at Morningside one-by-one express their concerns and opinions on the proposed plan on Nov. 28.

Atlanta Public Schools’ presentation and maps of affected schools and attendance zones

Related coverage, Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Nov. 30, 2017

Related coverage, The Southerner, please see: