Frustrations mount over redistricting plans

Frustrations mount over redistricting plans

With a number of additional residents trickling in after 6 p.m., last week’s redistricting forum at North Providence High School drew roughly 100 people.

NORTH PROVIDENCE – The North Providence School Committee is urging parents and guardians who are frustrated with the town’s elementary school redistricting plan to appeal their child’s placement before a March 22 deadline.

The plan, which rearranges the borders of each elementary school district, was presented to members of the community in a forum at North Providence High School last Thursday, March 7, during which parents shared some of their anxieties over the scheduled changes.

The redrawn map will impact the 2019/2020 school year when the town’s two newly constructed elementary schools, Stephen Olney and McGuire, go into use and Marieville Elementary shuts down.

A number of parents said they feared the impact switching schools might have on their children. Parent Chris Boyle explained that his daughter, a 3rd-grader, has attended a different school each year, first the original Stephen Olney Elementary, then the swing space on Woonasquatucket Avenue, and now, her new placement at Whelan.

“How is it a good idea to have any student switching around that much?” he asked.

Boyle said he and his wife bought a home in the Stephen Olney district so they could send their daughter to the new school. Another parent whose child was redistricted to Whelan said he also purchased a home in the Olney district and voted to support the $75 million construction bond because he hoped his 5-year-old would attend Olney, which they live three streets away from.

A third parent living on Alexander Street said they moved to North Providence for Stephen Olney, and that their children can see the school being built from the yard when they play, but they’ve been placed outside of the Olney district.

School Committee member Roderick Da Silva, who led the redistricting subcommittee, encouraged parents to file an appeal.

“Is there a plan to keep the kids moving from one school to another together?” one mother asked, adding that her daughter cried for two nights knowing she’d be leaving her group of friends. Da Silva said classroom assignments are not done by the School Committee, but by building principals.

“Children are resilient. They’ll get through this,” he said.

A Marieville parent said her child, under a new plan, would be bused from the northeastern corner of town to Olney, traveling across Mineral Spring and Douglas avenues. Even now, she said it has taken her child an hour or more to arrive home from Marieville, which is roughly a half-mile from their home. Da Silva noted that when Marieville Elementary closes, there is nowhere else for the students to go in that district.

The concerned parent identified herself as a bus driver who “chose not to drive for Durham” after the “absolute mess” that occurred with the company at the start of the school year in 2017, with issues including long wait times and chaotic dismissal routines.

School Committee chairman Frank Pallotta said school officials are putting “a lot of pressure on the bus company right now,” asking for projected bus routes in April rather than July or August. He said they want bus drivers to conduct dry runs of routes before the School Committee approves them on April 24.

“I can tell you as a bus driver there is no conceivable way to get all of the drivers to do a dry run to make sure they can make it up Mineral Spring Avenue,” the parent said. “Heed my warning … I think it’s going to be a disaster.”

Another parent noted that the plan was based around the two new elementary projects being completed on time, asking what the committee’s fallback plan is if construction is delayed. Pallotta said he can’t personally guarantee anything, but that the project team assures him every week that the project is on time and on budget.

Asked whether there will be time for students to visit their new school ahead of its opening to quell anxieties, Da Silva said school officials will plan open houses. The two new schools are scheduled for completed construction the Wednesday before Labor Day, and school would start the following week.

“It’s a very tight schedule. No one here created that but it is what it is, and we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure the children and families are comfortable,” Da Silva said.

Pallotta acknowledged that the redistricting process should have started earlier. “I’m not going to make any excuses up for anyone … I certainly was not on the School Committee then, but this process probably should have started last year,” he said.

Those unable to attend last week’s forum will receive a letter in the mail with details of the presentation and information on the process. The redistricting map will be posted in the entrance of each elementary school and available on the school district website, along with the appeals form.

Frequently asked questions, according to school officials:

Q: How do I file an appeal?

A: The appeal form is available online and in the elementary school offices.

Q: Will the size of schools and populations change?

A. Yes. Under the plan, Centredale will have roughly 210 students, Greystone will have 231 and Whelan is slated for 285. The new schools will be much larger, including 391 students at Stephen Olney and 333 at McGuire.

Q: What happens to students with special permission to attend a school outside of their home district?

A: Students with special permission have been sent back to their home district. To stay at the school they are currently attending, the parent/guardian must file an appeal or ask for that special permission again.

Q: Are 5th-graders grandfathered in?

A: No rising fifth graders were grandfathered in, in an effort to be fair to Marieville fifth graders who cannot remain at their school. The appeals process is available to those students and their families impacted.

Q: What will happen to teachers and staff?

A: There may be some teacher and staffing movement, since McGuire and Stephen Olney are much larger schools, but teachers will be given the option to stay where they are.

Q: Who makes the decision on appeals?

A: Members of an appeals subcommittee including principals, the superintendent and community members.

Note: A previous version of this story indicated that fifth-graders could choose to remain at their current school.