Rendering courtesy of Hoover City Schools.
Former Hoover school Superintendent Andy Craig’s rezoning proposal would have affected children in at least a dozen single-family residence communities and 10 apartment complexes.
The “r” word is returning to Hoover schools, and no, we’re not talking about reading, writing or arithmetic.
It’s time to talk about rezoning, new Hoover Schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy told the school board on Sept. 14.
Murphy said she plans to begin having meetings with communities throughout the city to discuss redrawing attendance zones for Hoover schools.
“We realize that the whole conversation of rezoning is a painful one for us to even talk about but is nevertheless a conversation we need to have,” Murphy said. “It’s a necessary step … It may re-stir some passions and tough conversations, but these are conversations we’re going to need to have.”
The U.S. Department of Justice, which reviews any plans for redrawing school zones, also has been visiting Hoover schools and talking with school officials about rezoning, Murphy said.
Justice Department officials, because of a decades-old desegregation federal court order, must consider the impact that rezoning would have on the integration of school children by race. The federal court must give approval for any rezoning before it can take effect, and the Justice Department provides its opinion to the federal court.
Also, U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala in November advised both the Hoover and Jefferson County school systems that she wanted to examine all aspects of the two systems. This would reveal whether they still need federal court supervision or whether they have effectively implemented desegregation efforts to the point where federal supervision is no longer necessary.
That review includes an examination of the racial composition of student attendance zones, racial composition of the faculty and staff at each school, transportation, facilities and extra-curricular activities.
Both the Justice Department and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who are parties to a longstanding Jefferson County desegregation case, also are being asked by Haikala to weigh in on those matters.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund already has started reviewing information provided by Hoover City Schools and visited Hoover schools earlier this year. Justice Department officials also visited some Hoover schools in February, but Murphy did not join the Hoover system as superintendent until June.
One particular school of interest to the Justice Department is the former Berry High School campus, which is now partially used as the Crossroads alternative school.
The city of Hoover in April made an offer to buy the 35-acre campus for $9 million with the idea of turning it into an athletic complex. Justice Department officials want to know where the Crossroads alternative school students who use the campus now would be relocated and what the Hoover school system would do with the money from the sale of the campus, Murphy said.
And Hoover school officials want to make sure they don’t have a need for the campus themselves before they sell it, she said.
But Murphy emphasized that rezoning is not just something spurred by talks with the Justice Department. Hoover has some school buildings, such as Deer Valley Elementary School, that are near capacity and others, such as Trace Crossings Elementary School, that are nowhere near capacity. School attendance zones need to be redrawn to help the school system better utilize its buildings, she said.
Rezoning talks in past years have stirred strong emotions in parents, who are deeply invested in where their children attend school.
Murphy said she knows some people are concerned about reigniting a controversial issue, but it’s one that can’t be ignored and must be addressed. She reminded the school board at its Sept. 14 meeting that when she was hired, she promised she would listen to the community’s concerns, and it would be a big mistake not to hear what they have to say about rezoning, she said.