Several upset parents of Craven County students who have been assigned to different schools next year took their staff-denied appeals to a panel of elected officials Monday.
Fifteen appeals were heard from 9 a.m. until after 3 p.m. Parents say they were told they could have 10 minutes each to persuade a panel that the system’s decision to move their children back to the schools in the districts where they live creates hardships for them.
The panel, which included Board of Education members Frances H. Boomer, Kim R. Smith and the Rev. Joseph L. Walton, met with each parent. A few parents left with smiles, while others left the hearings clearly annoyed.
Craven County Schools Superintendent Lane Mills and Assistant Superintendent Glenn Reaves attended some of Monday’s appeal hearings. Reaves said there would be no additional appeal hearings this week, but added that hearings could resume next week.
The parents are upset by a recently tightened school system policy designed to get more Craven County students attending school in their home districts. The tightened-up school district assignment policy was adopted by the Board of Education in mid-May, but many parents have said they did not hear about it until late June.
The impact appears to be felt more in Havelock-area schools, where Havelock Elementary, Arthur W. Edwards Elementary and Tucker Creek Middle schools operate on a year-round calendar. Those schools are scheduled to start classes on July 11.
Tabitha Brewer, an outspoken critic of the school system’s actions, said her child’s appeal “was denied, again. As were all my friends. We didn’t have a fighting chance. Their minds were made up before we walked in the doors.”
Arlene Forton said she got a letter dated May 13 — but postmarked June 12 — on changed assignments for three children who had all attended Arthur W. Edwards Elementary School for their whole school careers.
“I responded the next day to Assistant Superintendent Reaves, and one was approved, but two were not,” she said. The oldest child will be going to Tucker Creek Middle School, the only year-round middle school in the district.
“We’ve been there so long, Arthur Edwards is our family,” Forton said. “We’re comfortable with the teachers and school, and they are heartbroken they can’t go back.”
Parents said the school system’s procedure on the policy implementation gave them little time to appeal their children’s reassignments.
They first took their concerns to key administrative staffers including Reaves, who was tapped to implement the district assignment policy. The school board agreed to tighten up its transfer policy May 16 to better conform to the North Carolina School Board Association and, Reaves said earlier, to even out school population numbers.
The new policy grandfathered in students in the last two grades of their respective elementary, middle or high school careers.
But there has been a loud outcry from parents of children affected by the move. Many said they did not want to be quoted by name for fear of reprisals against their children at schools to which they have been reassigned.
Reaves said the system had received about 1,200 requests for students to attend school outside their home districts for the upcoming 2013-14 school year. Of those, about 60 percent have been approved by staff, he said.
Of the 40 percent of requests that have been denied, about 125 were appealed to Mills. Of those, Mills denied about 35 to 40, Reaves said.
The 15 appeals heard Monday arose from among those 35 to 40 denials, school system leaders said.
Early on Monday afternoon, several of the parents appealing were from the Havelock area where elementary schools serve a population with a heavy military connection.
Service members’ children have to move often enough because of military reassignments, said one Havelock mother, who said her 7-year-old son was just “beginning to love to read,” but was being reassigned from Arthur W. Edwards Elementary.
“He’s going to have to move again in 18 months anyway,” she said, adding that parents were not given sufficient time to explore private school alternatives.
Brewer’s choice for her daughter, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was because of the year-round calendar, which is also available at Havelock Elementary. But she said the experience she and her daughter had when touring the two schools before enrolling two years ago “were polar opposites.”
So she said she would forgo the year-round calendar at Havelock Elementary in favor of the traditional school year available at Graham A. Barden Elementary, which is in the district where she lives.