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Photo by Jon Anderson
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About 150 people showed up for the last of five community feedback meetings concerning Hoover schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy's rezoning proposal at Spain Park High School on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016.
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Parents line up to speak at the last of five community feedback meetings on Hoover schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy's rezoning proposal at Spain Park High School on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016.
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Photo by Jon Anderson
Hoover rezoning meeting 2-23-16
About 150 people showed up for the last of five community feedback meetings on Hoover schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy's rezoning proposal at Spain Park High School on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016.
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Photo by Jon Anderson
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Retired federal Judge U.W. Clemon, a cooperating attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, listens during the last of five community feedback meetings concerning Hoover school Superintendent Kathy Murphy's school rezoning proposal at Spain Park High School on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016.
Parents from Riverchase Elementary School tonight made strong pleas to keep their children at their current school instead of rezoning them to Rocky Ridge or Trace Crossings elementary schools.
About 150 people came out to Spain Park High School under the threat of inclement weather to voice their thoughts about Superintendent Kathy Murphy’s proposal to redraw school attendance zones.
It was the last of five community feedback meetings before Murphy comes up with a final plan to present to the Hoover school board for a vote.
Representatives from numerous neighborhoods slated to be rezoned away from Riverchase, including Chace Lake, Quail Run, Southlake, Valley Station and Barrington on the Green apartments, came up to the microphone to plead their cases.
Chris Hamer, who spoke on behalf of Chace Lake residents, said distance and a sense of community are two reasons to keep children from Chace Lake at Riverchase instead of sending them to Trace Crossings.
Riverchase Elementary is only about a mile from Chace Lake by road, while Trace Crossings Elementary is 4.9 miles, Hamer said. That 3.9-mile distance might not seem like a long way, but the commute time climbs from five minutes to 20 or 25 minutes based on traffic, he said.
Chace Lake children currently don’t qualify for bus service because they are within two miles of Riverchase, and parents are fine with that, Hamer said. If the children are rezoned to Trace Crossings, the school district would have to provide bus service, and that money could be used in better ways, he said.
From a demographic standpoint, leaving the Chace Lake children at Riverchase would have less than a 1 percent change in the racial makeup of both Riverchase and Trace Crossings, Hamer said.
If filling up Trace Crossings is a concern, there are 500 houses planned to be built just down the road from Trace Crossings in the Lake Wilborn community, plus more homes coming in Magnolia Grove that can contribute students to Trace Crossings, he said.
Chace Lake students also would be rezoned from Berry Middle and Spain Park high schools to Simmons Middle and Hoover High under the superintendent’s proposal. While Simmons and Hoover are geographically closer to Chace Lake, 90 percent of the parents in Chace Lake work in areas east of the neighborhood, closer to Spain Park, Hamer said.
Parents spent a lot of money on houses specifically to get in the Berry and Spain Park school zones, he said.
A 7-year-old girl who attends Riverchase said her parents work near her school and often come to eat lunch with her. If she has to go Trace Crossings, her parents will be farther away and may not be able to eat lunch with her as often, she said.
Robin Schultz, the grandparent of a student in the Quail Run community off Alabama 119, said it doesn’t make sense to rezone Quail Run children from Riverchase Elementary to Rocky Ridge Elementary.
It’s only 3.4 miles to Riverchase Elementary, and students don’t have to get on the interstate to get to school, but a trip to Rocky Ridge is 8.4 miles and would require a bus or car ride on Interstate 65 and Interstate 459, Schultz said. No other elementary school students in Hoover have to travel that far to school, he said.
Nicholas Ritchey, a parent from Quail Run, said the quality of education offered at Rocky Ridge is not a problem. It’s the travel distance that is the primary problem, he said. “We’re as far from Rocky Ridge as you can possibly be from a north-south perspective,” Ritchey said.
Michael Ritter, another Quail Run parent, said the U.S. Department of Justice says it is concerned about busing minority students to schools farther away from their homes, but he doesn’t understand how making other students go farther to school is any different.
“It seems like a clear-cut example of disparate treatment to me,” Ritter said. “Two wrongs do not make a right.”
Murphy said the Justice Department and NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which represents plaintiffs in a decades-old school desegregation case that includes Hoover City Schools, have been involved in positive and collaborative conversations with Hoover officials about the rezoning effort.
“All parties are trying to be thoughtful of all children,” Murphy said.
Retired U.S. Judge U.W. Clemon, who helped represent the original plaintiffs in the Jefferson County desegregation case and still serves as an associate attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was at tonight’s community feedback meeting.
Clemon said the new plaintiffs in the case, including a Hoover parent, have concerns that black students are being treated in a disproportionately unfair manner by being made to attend schools farther from their homes.
“What we are attempting to do now is to listen to the community and to react as favorably as possible in terms of coming up with a student assignment plan that both continues the quality of education in Hoover and, equally so, makes that education available to black students on the same basis as white students,” Clemon said.
At some of the community meetings, parents have voiced concerns about increasing the percentage of students from low-income families in certain schools, namely Green Valley, Gwin and Rocky Ridge elementary schools.
Clemon said the aim of this litigation is to seek racial equality in the schools. “Poverty knows no race, and while we are always concerned about it, that is a lesser concern than the concerns of racial equality,” he said.
Paul Correia, a resident of Southlake, thanked Hoover school officials for considering all children involved and said parents certainly understand the need for rezoning.
“We certainly value diversity,” he said. But Southlake is a diverse neighborhood, and Riverchase is a diverse school, and parents want to maintain that, he said. There are only 11 elementary school children from Southlake right now, and they represent less than 2 percent of the enrollment at Riverchase, so leaving them there would not have much of an impact, he said.
A parent with students at Deer Valley Elementary and Hoover High said he was glad he came to tonight’s meeting at Spain Park to hear the perspectives of people from the other side of town. He suggested school officials consider outside-the-box alternatives to deal with crowding issues at the high school level.
Perhaps Brock’s Gap Intermediate School could be turned into a third “boutique” high school that serves children in the International Baccalaureate program and career academies that specialize in sending students straight into jobs, such as physical therapy and sports management jobs. It could be open to students from both the Hoover and Spain Park zones, he said.
Murphy said she and other school officials will take all the feedback they have received in the five community feedback meetings and from the online survey, emails and conversations they have had with the public as they make adjustments to the rezoning proposal.
She is meeting again with the U.S. Department of Justice and Legal Defense Fund later this week and hopes to come up with a proposal that addresses as many of the public’s concerns as possible, while also hoping to come up with a plan that is acceptable to the Justice Department and Legal Defense Fund.
She already has submitted some potential changes to her original proposal for the other parties in the desegregation case to review, she said.
She hopes to have a revised proposal to give to the Hoover school board at a special-called meeting on March 7 and hopes to release that revised plan to the public several days before, she said. If the school board does not approve the plan, she’ll go back to square one, she said. If the school board approves it, she then will submit it to the federal court for its consideration, she said.
U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala has scheduled a hearing for April 7-8 on the rezoning issue, Murphy said.
This article was updated at 8:30 a.m Wednesday to correct the last name of Paul Correia, a resident of Riverchase who spoke at the meeting and at 1:45 p.m. Wednesday to clarify remarks by Superintendent Kathy Murphy concerning the timing of the release of a revised rezoning plan.