School Board Members Press Pause on Redistricting Discussions

SCHOOL BOARD

By Heather Smith Craig

Brian Link, President of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Association of Educators, was all smiles when he kicked off the public comment section at the Nov. 4 Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools Board of Education (BOE) meeting. Link praised how responsive the board and superintendent were to the needs of the school communities by supporting a retention bonus and approving mental health days for teachers and students. “Tonight,” he said, “I just want to say ‘Thank you’.” His comment that evening contrasted greatly with his comments at the board’s Oct. 21 meeting, when his somber mood and tone reflected the difficulty and distress teachers and students have been experiencing in this new school year.

The BOE had a light agenda that included discussion of leasing a new building, structuring how the board will evaluate itself, and redistricting. 

Discussion of redistricting began after a presentation by Interim Chief Operations Officer Andre’ Stewart and Executive Director of Capital and Facilities Eric Allen. They explained that many students in the district’s Spanish-immersion programs who lived on the east side of the district have been displaced by new apartment construction, and families are now moving to different parts of the district. This shift has meant that there is a waitlist for Spanish-dominant dual-language students at Carrboro Elementary School but unused capacity at Frank Porter Graham Elementary School. 

Glenwood and Sewell Elementary schools have high enrollment numbers and these numbers are expected to remain high. Board member Mary Ann Wolf asked whether the overcrowding at these schools is due to interest in these schools’ programs — Glenwood houses the Mandarin dual-language program and is a STEM magnet school and Sewell houses the LEAP gifted education program for grades 4-5 — or from population shifts in the district. Board chairperson Jillian LaSerna reinforced that line of questioning by asking whether the discussion should be focused on where to locate programs rather than on redistricting. 

Superintendent Dr. Hamlett responded that the district was bringing this issue before the board at this time because the district is considering expanding its dual-language offerings and exploring redistricting as a way to proactively plan for the issues that will arise with more apartment complexes on Hwy 54 and the demographics of the families that will live there. 

Chairperson LaSerna expressed her view that discussions about which schools should house which programs needed to be a public process with time for public comment. She said, “My feeling is if we are changing an assignment, even for a program, that we need to go through the full process, like we would with redistricting … and invite public comment, hold forums … It warrants the same full process …  as redistricting.”

Later, after the board discussed how large an undertaking it will be to evaluate and implement redistricting and district programs such as language immersion and LEAP, board member Rani Dasi said, “I don’t know that the staff or community have the capacity to do this right now.” She emphasized that, “We are not redistricting [now].” Dr. Hamlett clarified that the redistricting abstract submitted to the board incorrectly listed the redistricting process as beginning in October of 2021, which is already past, and hoped to provide the board an update on the process in the spring. She further noted that a corrected abstract will be uploaded to the district’s website.

Board members asked administrators to come back at a later date with more information regarding these special programs and where they are to be housed. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS)  Policy 4150 guides redistricting. 

At the end of the meeting, the school board members welcomed newly-elected members Riza Jenkins, George Griffin and Mike Sharp, who were all in attendance in the audience. 

The next school board meeting is Nov. 18, 2021.

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