The Atlanta school board heard a round of cheers April 10 at the end of a chaotic public meeting about its planned redistricting of public schools. The board agreed to take three schools off the list for closing: F.L. Stanton, D.H. Stanton and Towns elementary schools.
The approval came after an uproar temporarily shut down the meeting. Some members of the audience reacted angrily to Atlanta police escorting a man from the auditorium and officers tackling another man who witnesses said went after Superintendent Erroll Davis.
APS spokesman Keith Bromery downplayed the incident. He said there were no arrests.
“It was such a minor disruption,” he told a reporter. “Who cares?”
The board voted unanimously to close seven schools instead of 10. Some South Atlanta parents blasted North Atlanta parents for getting mostly everything they wanted out of the redistricting process.
There were no major changes to the north Atlanta cluster’s boundaries and no recommendations to close schools.
Parents at Sarah Smith Elementary asked for more time to consider a last-minute proposal to move the Pine Hills neighborhood into the Sarah Smith district to ease overcrowding at Garden Hills Elementary. The move would add more than 120 students to the school, according to Sarah Smith parents.
There also was opposition to plans to turn the Sutton Middle School campus into a sixth grade academy when Sutton moves to the North Atlanta High School campus on Northside Drive.
Christina Pirouz, a Sarah Smith parent, said parents asked for data to support the rezoning recommendation but didn’t receive any until April 10. She said Davis’ explanation was not what demographers told board members when rezoning began last fall.
“The first proposal presented by APS indicated that Sarah Smith was going to be over capacity and the small portion of Pine Hills … should be shifted to Garden Hills,” Pirouz said. “Clearly this option indicated that Garden Hills was not over capacity.”
Kelly Prewitt, a Warren T. Jackson Elementary parent and member of the Meet in the Middle APS group, said the fight for two smaller middle schools is not over.
“Our organization is not going to go away after this vote,” she said. “To be honest, what happened last night is exactly what we expected to happen.”
Reide Onley, president of North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools said there was no way for the school board to make everyone happy.
“The decision has been made it is time to move forward as a cluster and get the community united and moving in the right direction,” he said.
The vote came after a grueling meeting that began at 2 p.m. and ended at 11:30 p.m., with few breaks.
From the south Atlanta parents’ point of view, the north Atlanta parents had nothing to complain about. Parents of schools being closed in south Atlanta said they were being treated unfairly compared with wealthier north Atlanta schools.
Several north Atlanta parents in the audience squirmed in their seats as mostly black speakers told them they did not want their children to attend school with black children. North Atlanta parents sitting in the audience said that’s not true and said they want the same things South Atlanta parents want: quality schools.
B.J. Young, co-president of the Sarah Smith PTA, said comments other parents made about north Atlanta schools were “unfortunate.”
“I don’t think there’s a reason to slight another community to make yourself look good or to raise yourself up,” she said.
District 4 school board member Nancy Meister did not publicly ask the board during the April 10 meeting to alter its redistricting plan to address concerns about the Pine Hills neighborhood and the sixth grade academy.
The redistricting proposal was intended to balance overcrowded north Atlanta schools with underutilized south Atlanta schools. The system has 13,000 empty seats. Round after round of public comments about the divisive issue turned the auditorium into a powder keg. Accusations of racism were hurled at the school board and speakers vowed to vote the current board out of office if they closed their schools, holding recall elections for board members if necessary. Most of the speakers were in support of the three schools the board removed from the closure list.
Before public comments were through, shouting erupted as Atlanta police escorted someone out of the room. Another man rushed up behind the dais and launched himself at Davis before an officer tackled him. The board retreated to a closed room. One audience member spit on one of the microphones at the dais before being dragged out of the room by a police officer.
Extra police officers appeared at the school, and when the board resumed the meeting, many audience members were gone. Atlanta Public Schools officials did not report any arrests.
Atlanta BOE members thanked parents for their passionate response.
Davis promised to provide a quality education for all APS students, including the ones in the smaller schools the board spared. “We will do what we have committed to do,” Davis said.
Dr. Dwanda Farmer, who told north Atlanta parents during comments that they were avoiding sending their children to schools with large numbers of black students, said south Atlanta parents want what north Atlanta parents have. She said north Atlanta parents should not be afraid to send their children to south Atlanta schools.
“We want good schools everywhere,” Farmer said.