The St. Johns County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to accept Superintendent of Schools Tim Forson’s final recommendation for rezoning — but not before two dozen parents spoke out, quite emotionally in some cases, about how the changes would impact their children and neighborhoods.
Since being introduced in early September, proposed attendance rezoning — meant to alleviate overcrowding at schools in the northern part of the county — has triggered community opposition, especially relocation of students to School “LL,” one of two new K-8 schools set to open in 2018-19.
The hence-to-be-officially named School “LL” is under construction in the Aberdeen section of St. Johns. A group of parents in Durbin Crossing South objected to their children having to move from Patriot Oaks Academy to attend LL next fall, saying their subdivision has been subject to several previous rezonings.
Forson said he favored “Plan C” because it strikes a compromise between “Plan B,” which took Durbin Crossing South kids out of the LL rezoning, but still provided some breathing room for over-capacity Hickory Creek Elementary School and Switzerland Point Middle School.
After listening to more than 20 parents sound off about all three alternatives of the rezoning for about two hours, the school board voted 5-0 to go along with Forson’s recommendation.
“I believe [Plan] C is the answer,” said school board member Patrick Canan. “It’s not perfect but it is the right thing to do.”
The final version would move students to LL from RiverTown, Aberdeen, Julington Lakes, Oakridge Landing, Durbin Creek Estates, a portion of Durbin Creek North, and an undeveloped area near Creekside High School.
As such, the board will publish the proposed zoning changes in a legal notice, as required, 30 days before final adoption by the board on Nov. 14.
An amendment brought up by school board member Beverly Slough was also accepted, which allows students to attend Hickory Creek or Fruit Cove Middle School instead of going to School LL if they live on three streets (Cresthaven Place, Gladstone Court and Castlegate Lane) off of Veteran’s Parkway. About 40 students currently live in that area, Slough said.
The other parts of the rezoning are the same as originally drafted by school officials. School “KK” in Nocatee will draw students from Town Center residential neighborhoods, as well as Willowcove, Tidewater, Coastal Oaks, Twenty Mile Village, Kelly Pointe and The Palms.
Additionally, the district will rezone students from Sawmill Landing, a new subdivision on State Road 207 in St. Augustine, to Otis Mason Elementary School. Students who live in Heritage Park, near State Road 16, would now attend Sebastian Middle School.
Several parents asked about the possibility of students who would be rising sixth- or seventh-graders next fall possibly being grandfathered under the rezoning, allowing them to remain in their existing schools through eighth grade. The district has not made any decision on that issue yet.
One mother, Megan Hackett, asked the board to consider allowing the Willowcove subdivision to remain zoned for Valley Ridge Academy until the district can better assess School KK’s enrollment and capacity going forward. Hackett said her fear was that as a high-growth area, the neighborhood would likely be rezoned again in coming years.
School board member Kelly Barrera said that it was important to note that feedback the district had received from the Nocatee neighborhoods of Willowcove and Coastal Oaks had been conflicting, with some parents favoring the move to KK and others against it.
Several speakers suggested that the district had rushed the process and tried to ram its most recent proposal, Plan C, through to a vote Tuesday without affected neighborhoods such as RiverTown having had a chance to fully digest the changes.
“I respectively ask that you not hold yourself to this board-imposed vote today,” said Sherry Hall, a comment that was met with cheers from the audience.
Following the meeting Tuesday, Forson responded, “Plan C was not rushed; it was part of the overall process. It was an evolution of trying to improve a recommendation that would be more widely accepted while providing relief to overcrowded schools.”
Christina Langston, chief of the district’s community relations, said the district had sent out a mass email alert to all parents with student in the affected schools on Oct. 4, the same day Plan C was posted on the district’s website.