School board takes united stand on rezoning

Published 7:12 am Friday, June 14, 2024

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SUFFOLK, Virginia — In a roll call vote, the Suffolk School Board unanimously decided to table the decision to rezone seven elementary schools during its Wednesday, June 13, meeting.

The decision pushes the discussion to rezone seven elementary schools for the 2025-26 school year to the August work session while also adding additional work sessions for the board to discuss the decision.

The postponement follows discussions of ongoing efforts to achieve unitary status and remain in compliance with the United States Department of Justice’s desegregation requirements.

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The opinion widely shared amongst board members during the discussion was a lack of options. Board Member Kimberly Slingluff said when first presented with the proposed plan, she felt as though the decision had already been made without input from the board.

“From the time this was presented to us a couple of months ago to now, the option was already formulated, the answer was already formulated without us being a part of any brainstorming or engaging it,” Slingluff said. “There may be no other option. There may be no other solution to this problem, but I feel as a board, our hands are tied. We don’t have an option because what we’re being told, we’re either going to court, we’re losing federal money, or we’re rezoning,”

When asked by Board Chair Karen Jenkins if the board is able to go to the Department of Justice to help “put options together,” SPS Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III says the DOJ “will not provide options.”

“That’s what the school division is supposed to do. They have to basically say if the options that are being presented to them satisfies the need to achieve unitary status,” Gordon said. “We will be able to bring things back depending on what our Department of Justice contact Ms. Coleman says when she responds to Mr. Waller’s inquiry.”

Waller says that the DOJ would evaluate the options SPS provides and determine whether they further desegregate.

“What I would hope to see, now whether or not this is going to happen or not, I don’t know. But what I would hope to see is that when the time comes for us to petition for unitary status, that DOJ will not be objecting to that,” Waller said. “Now whether or not they will join in a joint petition or not, I don’t know. But the one thing that I don’t want to see, is that I don’t want to see it turn into an adversarial situation because I don’t think that’s going to be good for anybody.”