Thousands of Durham students will be affected by the upcoming DPS school redistricting plans in the 2024-2025 school year, and many families who will be affected don’t even know that these changes are happening, despite this being a vital time for parents to make comments and potentially influence the implementation plans.

If you don’t know whether these changes will affect your family, you may want to check out the School Boundaries Interactive Map.

There have been several in-person work group meetings this past week, and rumors and “impressions” are circulating in parent groups who are seeking to better understand next steps to implementation.

This is the best summary I’ve been able to find on the DPS website, though it is now outdated.

We have a local news dissemination and communication problem. The News and Observer has a firewall, so you have to be a paid subscriber if you want to read up about the school redistricting implementation plans for Durham. WRAL has only a brief summary taken nearly verbatim from the DPS Growing Together website. The Watts PTA deems discussion about the changes too controversial for the parent listserv…even though dozens (maybe many more) current families may be required to change schools. Do I really have to rejoin Twitter and Facebook to see whether other parents have concerns too?

My own situation is that I’ve lived in Walltown for 18 years. Under the current plan, my two children would have to move schools in the 2024-2025 school year because the boundary is changing and the magnet/choice school rules are changing. (The link to the School Assignment Policy 4150 is no longer active on the DPS Website).

I am an advocate and strong supporter of public Montessori. I am thrilled that Durham is planning to add a third public Montessori school. I am also pleased that the plan aims to give residents of each region access to year-round options, International Baccalaureate program options, dual-language programs, public Montessori, and traditional schools. I’m pleased that the plan takes into account the overcrowding of many elementary schools and works to help reduce bus times and walkability/bikeabilty—being close enough to walk or ride bikes to school is a great privilege!

Having attended several of the meetings and watched recordings over the past two years, I do have the impression that these are smart, capable, good people who are working on these plans. They are thinking of our most vulnerable kids—our E.C. kids, our non-native English speaking families… BUT, people who will be affected still don’t know what’s going on. Many families, like my own, don’t want another disruption right now. We just survived (and that’s not hyperbole) a pandemic! Virtual learning was a disaster for many families. While I am supportive of many of the plans, the implementation of these plans could be a disaster.

Parents do NOT know what is coming down the line, and part of the problem is that DPS is not using the words “redistricting” or “rezoning”.  Is that by design? “Growing Together” gets no one’s hackles up—do we really want public discourse right now? Is public debate too frightening in these polarized times? Once 6,000 students—this is the estimated number of students who I heard may be affected at the November 10th meeting at Eastway Elementary—are told to switch schools, possibly leave their magnet school programs and school communities, there are going to be a lot of unhappy families. Some are suggesting that we “rip the Band-Aid off”, but those folks may not have been struggling to find childcare options during the pandemic. Those folks may not have seen serious learning loss first-hand. Those folks may not be witnessing social anxiety, mental health concerns and all of the other side-effects of the pandemic our children are still experiencing.

We are just now beginning to return to some semblance of normal. Let’s be cautious and thoughtful about implementing this plan. Are we going to rip the Band-Aid off when our pandemic wounds are still fresh?

Mary Barzee is a parent of two children who attend Durham Public Schools. 

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