APS parents oppose plans to rezone portion of Grady school cluster

An Atlanta Public Schools plan to rezone a northern part of the Grady High School cluster has drawn sharp opposition from parents who want the district to slow down before moving student attendance boundaries.

The school district estimates about 100 students will be affected by the proposed changes, prompted by growth and residential development on the school system’s east side.

The proposal would expand the North Atlanta High School cluster to include some addresses currently in the Grady cluster.

See the maps that show the proposed rezoning changes here.

The school board is expected to vote Monday on the rezoning, according to a timeline provided by Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.

“We asked them, ‘Could you give this more time to think of other solutions?’ ” said James Wright, who said he is buying a home in a new development that he recently learned would be rezoned. “They said ‘no.’ ”

The district sent a letter Nov. 15 to parents outlining the plan. Others who live in or are moving to the affected areas said APS should have done a better job communicating its plans to a wider audience.

APS, in a statement released by spokesman Ian Smith, said that the timing for such a decision “will never be ideal” but noted changes would not be effective until July 1. The district included principals and local school governance teams as it reviewed the proposal and held a community meeting Tuesday.

“Dr. Carstarphen and school board members continue to discuss the proposed changes,” the statement said.

The school district cited the increased popularity of inner-city living as one of the reasons for growth in the Grady cluster. It pointed to 384 new housing units coming to the Cheshire Bridge and Piedmont Road areas.

The plan grandfathers in some students. Those who live in the affected areas and are enrolled as of Dec. 4 in Morningside Elementary School and Inman Middle School can remain until they complete the highest grade levels at the school they currently attend. Those enrolled by the same date at Grady will be able to graduate from the high school.

But siblings of those students who enroll in an APS school for the first time next school year will attend schools in the rezoned North Atlanta cluster, which includes Sutton Middle School and North Atlanta High School.

Sutton and North Atlanta can accommodate more students, the district reported. North Atlanta High School, for example, has 1,889 students, or about 76 percent of its capacity.

Some who live in the Grady cluster’s Morningside Elementary attendance zone will shift to either Garden Hills or E. Rivers elementary, depending on where they live.

The affected areas include the Cheshire Bridge corridor, where students will go to Garden Hills and where the district said development will bring hundreds of new housing units, and the Armour Drive corridor, where students will go to E. Rivers.

Wright put money down to purchase a new place and expects to move in this spring. He thought the home would be in the Morningside school zone, where he planned to enroll his young son in 2019.

He found out about the rezoning plans from his sales agent and then shared the news with others who didn’t know about the shift to the North Atlanta cluster of schools.

“We don’t think as taxpayers we should be pulled out of an existing zone and be bused,” he said. “This is not just about a school. This is about busing my kid completely out of my neighborhood.”

Parents on the North Atlanta side of the rezoning proposal also have concerns.

Matt Little is worried that an influx of students will increase class sizes at E. Rivers, where he has a second-grader. For months, there were 31 students in his child’s class — far too many, he said — until a new teacher recently started.

“This is just very disruptive,” he said. “People are moving back into the city. There’s going to be more pressure and stress on these schools.”

The school district’s statement said that principals have the “discretion and flexibility” to manage class sizes. It said a dual-language immersion requirement resulted in a class size of 30 students at E. Rivers, but adding a teacher dropped the class size to 24 students.

Morningside enrolled 932 students this fall, compared to 799 at E. Rivers and 515 at Garden Hills, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

Five years ago, Morningside had 806 students, while E. Rivers had 677 and Garden Hills had 628.

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