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Parents speak out on rezoning

The School Board meeting was filled on Thursday night with Suffolk parents who had the chance to voice their concerns about a proposed rezoning plan.

The board hosted a public input section for the proposed rezoning plans for the elementary, middle and high school levels. Each speaker was given three minutes, and most spoke in opposition of the rezoning.

Most of the parents have children currently attending Pioneer Elementary School. The school zone takes up a majority of the southern portion of Suffolk. In the current rezoning proposal, the area would be split almost in half, with part zoned for Booker T. Washington Elementary School.

“I don’t believe in busing my child to a school that isn’t currently accredited,” said Jennifer Davis, whose children attend Pioneer. “It does not make sense for my child to be 20 minutes away when there is a school 10 minutes away. Rezoning stands to remove them from the only school they have ever known. This will not only affect our students, but it will affect our communities.”

Most parents echoed the same sentiment, with concerns about distance and accreditation of the school. Booker T. Washington and Mack Benn Jr. elementary schools and John F. Kennedy Middle School currently lack full accreditation.

Some parents even threatened to pull their kids out of the public school system and enroll them in private schools if the rezoning was approved.

While some parents protested the plan, others said rezoning was fine as long as it affects only the North Suffolk area. Two new schools, Florence Bowser Elementary School and Col. Fred Cherry Middle School, are set to open this fall to help ease overcrowding.

“The rezoning of schools should focus on the northern part of Suffolk,” said Lorita Mayo, a former teacher for Suffolk Public Schools. “Removing students from the current schools and busing children for longer periods of time are detrimental to the success of the school system.”

One woman supported the rezoning proposal.

“I think it is a good idea. It really troubles me that so many don’t want this,” said Amy Ford.

Ford spoke in favor of the rezoning plan, because she believes it fits the criteria of creating diversity in each school that more closely matches the school division as a whole. Ford is a mother of two children currently in Suffolk Public Schools.

“If it was fixed 60 years ago, you would have gone to a desegregated school,” Ford said. “I think whatever solution gets us in compliance is a good one.”

Ford referred to a consent order filed March 20, 2017, by the Department of Justice against the School Board of the City of Suffolk. The order states that the school board needs to “address and resolve the board’s remaining school desegregation obligations in its operations of the Suffolk Public Schools.”

The case was initiated in May 1970, and Suffolk has achieved some of the goals — for example, more diversity in teachers and administration — but continues to fall behind when it comes to integrating schools, according to the consent order.

Booker T. Washington, for example, had nearly 94 percent black enrollment in the 2016-17 school year. The current citywide rezoning proposal for elementary schools would make it only 59 percent black enrollment.

Pioneer, on the other hand, had nearly 63 percent white enrollment that same year. The current rezoning proposal would give it 55 percent black enrollment, with 39 percent white and about 6 percent of other races.

Other criteria for rezoning include redistributing students to take advantage of available seats, creating more efficient bus routes and respecting established neighborhood boundaries, according to the school division’s website.

A formal presentation will be made to the school board on Feb. 8, and the board will vote on a final rezoning plan on March 8.