On the site of Hall County’s next middle and high schools, residents and school officials engaged in what was often lively discussion with words like “gerrymandering,” “conflict of interest” and “transparency” about where attendance lines should be drawn.
The second of two public hearings on the redistricting plan was held Tuesday night at Flowery Branch High School. The school will be the home of the new middle/high school once it opens in August 2018. Under the plan, Flowery Branch would move back to its original home at Davis Middle School, Davis would move back to South Hall Middle and South Hall would move back to its original home at the Academies of Discovery.
Only seven of the 150 people in attendance Tuesday night actually spoke at the hearing and most of those had already spoken a week earlier at the hearing at Johnson High last week.
Almost all of the speakers were from the Sterling on the Lake community, which has voiced much of the opposition to the redistricting proposal. At this meeting, district officials responded at times, providing a little bit of a back-and-forth discussion.
Brian Kovach and his wife, Jennifer, said they are concerned that all of the students at Spout Springs Elementary School would not go to the same middle and high schools under the plan and that they didn’t understand why the lines were drawn as they were. Sterling is less than a mile from the new schools.
“There has been no transparency about why the lines were drawn where they were drawn,” said Brian Kovach.
Hall School Superintendent Will Schofield responded that the lines were drawn to address the areas that were expected to have the greatest growth.
“Those conversations have been transparent,” Schofield said, saying the plan to open the new school was in February 2016. “To say the process has had a lack of transparency is simply not genuine.”
Jennifer Kovach responded that she and her husband were worried that a school district official who drew the lines lived in the community and had a stake in where the lines were drawn.
“There might be a conflict of interest,” she said. She did not say at the meeting who she believed drew the lines.
Schofield took full responsibility for where the attendance lines are drawn in the proposal.
“They drew the lines where I told them to draw the lines,” he said. “This is way too important for me to sub it out to anybody.”
He added that he had two “cabinet members” in his administration who live in the South Hall area, but said “I don’t even know where they live. I have never been to their homes.”
Thomas and Robin Sealey voiced opposition to middle school and high school students being in the same building as it is planned for the schools on Spout Springs Road.
“I just feel putting 11-, 12- and 13-year-old girls into the same school with 16-, 17- and 18-year-old boys, I have a hard time understanding how a reasonable father would think that was a good idea,” Thomas Sealey said.
Board Vice Chairman Craig Herrington, who was chairing the meeting in the absence of Chairman Nath Morris, said there were several private schools in Hall County that have grades 6-12 in the same school.
Robin Sealey responded to Herrington saying that it is “never appropriate” for students in those age groups to share space.
“It doesn’t matter if other people are doing it wrong, if you know what the right thing to do is,” she said.
Her husband said it appeared school officials were “gerrymandering” the attendance lines for political purposes and that he didn’t understand why the Sterling students were being sent to a school farther away from its neighborhood than the middle/high school site on Spout Springs Road.
Chris Fetterman, another Sterling resident, again called for a postponement of the plan’s implementation. He said board members were elected to listen to voters and do what voters want them to do.
“Keep the district lines where they are and just let some schools get bigger,” Fetterman said.
Schofield said the “vast majority” of people in Hall County are not in favor of high schools with populations of 2,500 or more. He said the district is trying to limit high schools to no more than 1,800 students.
Brant Hurdelbrink suggested making room for some of the students in the Spout Springs Road area by returning a group that is moved to the new Spout Springs school in the proposal back to the Johnson attendance area.
“I just think the district lines are wrong,” he said. “I think it needs to be reviewed again.”
Nicole Jennings, who has children at Spout Springs, pushed for more elementary schools to feed into one middle and high school, like the current pure feeder system between the middle and high schools.
“I appreciate that ya’ll have moved into purity from middle schools to high schools,” Jennings said. “I would ask again that you would consider that when drawing the lines from elementary to middle.”
Board members Herrington, Brian Sloan and Sam Chapman were at the hearing Tuesday. Morris and Bill Thompson were out of town on business.