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The federal judge reviewing the Hoover school district’s request to redraw attendance zones for the 2016-17 school year on Thursday asked school officials to provide more information.
U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala said in a written order that statistics filed by the school system in a previous rezoning request in 2004 were confusing and that some of the statistics seem to be internally inconsistent and inconsistent with testimony given by school district officials on April 7 of this year.
The pending rezoning motion would move students in 23 of Hoover’s 42 apartment complexes to new elementary schools, but the school district has presented little information to the court that describes how Hoover has shifted apartment students over the years or the impact that those changes have had on African-American students, Haikala said in her order.
During the April 7 court hearing in Birmingham, school officials said a “large proportion” of the students who live in Hoover’s apartment complexes are African-American, but the court has no data that gives current demographic information for the apartment complexes, she said.
The court also doesn’t have a map that shows the location of the 42 apartment complexes in relation to the schools or information that shows where apartment students attend middle and high school and whether those assignments have changed over time, she said.
“The absence of this information limits the Court’s ability to assess the impact of the proposed school assignments on African-American students,” Haikala wrote.
She ordered the school district to provide, by 5 p.m. on Friday, charts in a specific format that describe student assignments for the current school year and how those would change for the 2016-17 school year if the district’s rezoning request were approved.
The school district also must, by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, file:
- An affidavit stating when the district began assigning students in apartment complexes to schools other than the ones serving the geographic area in which those complexes are located.
- A chart listing each apartment complex and the schools closest to each complex, as well as the schools to which each complex was zoned for the 2003-04, 2004-05 and 2015-16 academic years, and the proposed schools for 2016-17
- A chart listing apartment complexes within a two-mile radius of each school
- A chart describing the percentage of students in each apartment complex who receive free or reduced-price meals
- A chart in a specific format showing students’ school assignments for each school year from 2004-05 forward
- Large color-coded maps that show the location of every apartment complex and every school via attendance zones for 2015-16 and proposed attendance zones for 2016-17.
The judge this afternoon held a conference call with parties in the decades-old desegregation court case.
Hoover school board attorney Donald Sweeney said afterward that the judge is very sensitive to the time-sensitive nature of the rezoning request but said he could not comment further because he wasn’t sure what information he was authorized to disclose.
Parents, teachers in limbo
Meanwhile, many parents and teachers are left in limbo about making plans for the next school year.
Bluff Park parent Jenni Hertz said the delay in getting a plan approved makes it difficult for working mothers, many of whom live in the apartments in question, to plan ahead for child care and school transportation for next year.
Many schools already have held kindergarten registration or kindergarten kickoff nights based on the proposed new attendance zones, Hertz said. If the rezoning is not approved for next year, “how is all of that going to be undone and redone?” she said.
At Bluff Park Elementary, orders for field trip shirts for next year are due May 6, and the deadline for supply packs is coming up, Hertz said.
The next school year starts in just three months, and there is a lot of work to be done to prepare, she said. The Hoover school board attorney previously indicated it would take at least six months to implement new attendance zones once they are approved, and that seems more realistic than the revised rushed schedule, Hertz said.
Administrators don’t know what grades will be at their school next year, and teachers don’t know where they will be assigned or if they will even have a job, she said.
The uncertainty is especially tough for parents of special needs children, who sometimes take more time to adjust to changes, Hertz said. Some parents already have taken children to visit their potential new schools, only to find out now the rezoning may not be approved, she said.
Hertz said she knows some parents whose children could potentially be split up by the rezoning are planning to rent property to deal with the shortcomings of the plan. Others have put their houses on the market with the intention of moving out of Hoover altogether, and some already have done so, she said.
“I think the lack of communication on the status of this process has been pathetic,” she said.
This story was updated at 10:09 p.m. on May 5 with comments from Bluff Park parent Jenni Hertz.