Groton parents balk at student redistricting shuffle

Groton - Rebecca Beyus wonders how she will explain to her son that he is going to be pulled away from his first-grade classmates at Northeast Academy Elementary School and moved to another school.

Under a school redistricting plan that shifts 20 percent of the school population in order to correct a racial imbalance at one school and satisfy a state mandate, Beyus said her son would be among about 22 students from her neighborhood moved to Claude Chester.

"He's going to think he did something wrong," Beyus said Wednesday. "He's the only boy in the first grade being moved … without his friends. This is heart-wrenching."

Beyus was one of several parents to express their frustrations at the first in a series of public forums designed to gather input on the latest redistricting plan. The plan was outlined by Milone & MacBroom planner Michael Zuba during a gathering at Claude Chester Elementary School.

About 30 people attended, including parents who traced their fingers on maps hung on the gymnasium walls and matching their street address to color-coded districts. There are some changes in nearly every district, but the largest number of students would be moved from Catherine Kolnaski to Claude Chester and Mary Morrisson.

The school district hired Milone & MacBroom to help draw new district lines and create a plan acceptable to the State Board of Education. The town was notified in 2010 that the Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School had an unacceptably high number of minority students. At the time, the school had more than a 60 percent minority population, a number that has since grown to more than 70 percent.

Groton schools nearing an imbalance include Claude Chester, Northeast Academy and S.B. Butler.

The state mandates that no school have more than a 25 percent higher population of minorities than the school district average.

Beyus attended Wednesday's meeting with a group of other concerned parents from the Gales Ferry Road and Charlton Lane neighborhood. Some said they bought homes in the area based on where their children would be attending school. Beyus blamed the state for outdated mandates.

Deanna Shipman, a single mother with a daughter at Northeast, said "this is where her friends are. This is where I volunteer."

"You're looking at these kids like numbers. They're not," she said.

Zuba said his company is developing a plan to address the state mandate and reduce the socioeconomic disparity while trying to minimize impacts on neighborhoods wherever possible. The company is also tracking population trends and attempting to avoid the need for further changes in the years to come - such as the capacity concerns at Mary Morrisson.

The school board must be ready to present a draft plan to the State Board of Education next month and have a permanent plan in place by the end of the year.

The newest plans, which include street-by-street changes, are expected to be available today on the school district website. The next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Oct. 17 at Catherine Kolnaski.

Answers to questions raised at Wednesday's meeting are also to be posted on the district website at www.groton.k12.ct.us/Page/9377.

g.smith@theday.com

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