Social engineering

What a Difference an R-Section Makes: New, Limited School Rezoning Proposal Draws

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In contrast with two previous “listening sessions” on school rezoning, which drew dozens and reflected sharp if concentrated opposition to the proposal at the time, the session the Flagler school district held at Indian Trails Middle School’s cafeteria Wednesday evening drew at most five people, not counting double that number in district staffers, including Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt.

Gone were the howls of opposition. Gone were the claims of social engineering. Gone were the accusations of stressing out students and parents. And gone, but not entirely, was the coded language of racism that, translated into plain English, took its genesis from the not-too distance days of segregation: Don’t mix our white kids with too many Black kids more than you have to. The protesters were especially angry at a proposal that would have shifted many students from Old Kings Elementary, currently the district’s whitest school by far (79 percent), to Buddy Taylor Middle School instead of to Indian Trails Middle School, and on to Palm Coast High School instead of Matanzas High School.

The first rezoning proposal last month had drawn 176 online comments through the district’s Let’s Talk app. As of this morning, the revised proposal had drawn just one.

The difference in turnout Wednesday: the district has drastically scaled back its rezoning proposal for the 2022-23 school year from one that affected all nine schools to one that affects only the two middle schools and the two high schools. Even in that regard, only some students currently zoned for Buddy Taylor Middle School and Flagler Palm Coast High School will be affected. They’ll be shifted to the other two schools. And all those affected students are either in Palm Coast’s R-Section or in Espanola, west of Palm Coast. (See the maps below.)

“We’re proposing a pause in rezoning for the elementary schools for the 2022-2023 school year,” Patty Bott, the district’s point person on rezoning, told what there was of an audience Wednesday. “We’ll come back to the board next year after collecting and reviewing additional enrollment data to discuss how to resolve the capacity challenges at the elementary school level. We will want to align the elementary zones to any proposed new middle school.”

The district is shifting all sixth graders to its two middle schools next year. It’s part of the district’s strategy to fill our more seats where they’re available. Indian Trails is at 84 percent capacity, so it has some room for extra students. Matanzas High School is at 80 percent. Flagler Palm Coast High, on the other hand, is at 110 percent, and Buddy Taylor–that much-maligned school, in public perceptions–is at 112 percent.

There are currently 379 students in the R-Section and Espanola who would be going into the 6th, 7th and 8th grades next year, of whom 112 are currently at Buddy Taylor Middle School. The others will be incoming sixth and seventh graders. That’s the number of students who will be rezoned at those levels. In the higher grades, there are 580 students who will be going to 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades next year. Of them, 135 are incoming 9th graders. So the total students affected from what would have been continued attendance at FPC is 410 students.

That will bring capacity at both Indian Trails and Matanzas just past the 100 percent mark. The district’s long-range plan this decade is to build a new middle school and a new high school.

“The next steps are about school choice and grandfathering policies,” Bott said, referring to the sort of policies that would enable parents to remain with their present school for a variety of reasons, such as not wanting to split siblings, or finishing out a program within specific academic plans. “Those policies that have not been decided on yet.” Those policies will be outlined at the October 19 school board information workshop.

Just two parents spoke. One, a resident of the R Section, has a child at FPC and a child at Buddy Taylor. Both would be rezoned. She is opposed. Her high school child is on the spectrum and will be a junior next year. Moving him, she said, “would be devastating for him.” Nor would she want her Buddy Taylor child eventually attending a different high school than her older child. Her final words summed it up: “Yeah, i don’t want to rezone. That’s where I’m at.”

Another parent described his family as new arrivals in the county. Based on his research, he said the perception was that Matanzas and Indian Trails were the more “academic” schools, while FPC and Buddy Taylor the more “athletic” schools. He was concerned that his high-performing child would end up in an “athletic” school. He used his language carefully, but then veered toward more treacherous coded language: “My concern is, and from what I’ve heard about Espanola, it’s not as–the academics may not be there, from what I was told, if that makes sense. And I’m concerned that by bringing people from a different area–” He then stopped himself, and said: “That’s coming off really….” He didn’t finish his thought, but it was clear. (Espanola has a higher proportion of Black students.) He rephrased: “I don’t want the academics to get affected by bringing kids in that may not be here for academics, or they’d rather be in athletics, is what I’m trying to say.”

The session lasted just 25 minutes. Mittlestadt sat through it. It drew no school board members, as previous sessions had, likely because the board members know the current proposal will sail through. The district is holding another listening session this evening at Buddy Taylor Middle School–a short distance from the R Section. Assistant Superintendent Paul Peacock, one of the presenters of the plan, again cautioned that all proposals remain fluid. The board is not scheduled to vote on rezoning until December.

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