New Hanover County Parents Debate Redistricting

Snipes Elementary School, Wilmington, NC – The tone was civil, but views were sharply divided at last night's school board forum. The meeting at Snipes Elementary was the first of three chances for the public to speak on the redistricting proposals for New Hanover County elementary schools.

The school board is in some confusion about how many proposals are still on the table. Board chair Donald Hayes opened the meeting by saying that all proposals are still on the table. But the only maps available on the meeting, and on the board's website, are two which the board voted on in their meeting last month.

Contacted the next day, board member Janice A. Cavenaugh said all the proposals were in play for final consideration. But board member Dorothy DeSheilds disagreed, saying she believes that while the board is still willing to listen to the public on all six, it would take another vote to bring back the four discarded plans.

The redistricting plans generally sit on one side or the other of a philosophical divide, trying either to send students to the nearest school, or to prioritize economic diversity in student bodies.

The school board faced a quarter-full auditorium, a smaller gathering than expected. During the hour-long forum, nearly twenty parents and community members addressed the board. To make their arguments, speakers quoted academics, brought up historical examples from George Wallace to the Wilmington 10, and cited internet maps and local traffic patterns. In general, those in favor of socio-economic integration spoke about the broad principals of integration, while those arguing for proximity told specific stories about their children. Angela Peterson's son faces busing under either proposal.

Nobody can tell me how long he'd be on the bus. I mean, he could be on the bus an hour, an hour-and-a-half each way. And that makes for a long day when you're a six year old, she said.

Hudson Barksdale, the pastor of Gregory Congregational Church, has a child entering New Hanover schools this fall, and sees the issue as larger than individuals. The right to a diverse, quality education, he said, is so important that even if it inconveniences some, it should happen.

New Hanover County is redistricting as it adds new schools to the system. The school board hopes to decide on a new map for elementary schools this summer, to take effect in the fall of 2007. Redistricting for the middle and high schools will follow.

Megan Williams, WHQR News.

The next two public forums are:
Monday, May 22 - Murray Middle School gymnasium at 7pm
Tuesday, May 30 - Laney High School gymnasium at 7pm

You can find both proposed redistricting maps at the school board's website