Unit 5 Superintendent Gary Niehaus speaks to parents of Benjamin Elementary students at a redistricting forum Feb. 28. (Stephanie Pawlowski/WJBC)
By WJBC Staff
NORMAL - Unit 5 parents were very upset at a redistricting forum at Parkside Junior High Thursday night.
The forum opened with a background and options for redistricting, but parents felt they weren't going to be heard because the forum wasn't open mic. About 250 people attended the forum.
Benjamin Elementary and Cedar Ridge are over capacity and are the only two schools that will be affected, under these proposals. According to the consultant, no programs will be moved. The redistricting will include open attendance areas to balance enrollment, or basically a chance to pick schools.
Under the first option:
Under the second option:
During a presentation on the plans, parents tried to ask questions of the consultant and Superintendent Gary Niehaus but were told the forum wasn't a chance for everyone to voice concerns in front of an audience. Instead, the redistricting committee and school board want concerns in writing via an online survey.
One woman shouted out during the background session, "I'm fighting for my son."
Another woman asked how people can give feedback if a family doesn't own a family computer. The consultant told the crowd the school computer labs will be open for parents to use.
Niehaus said 200 students from the Wingover apartment complex north of Empire will shift. Ebony Nebel lives in the Wingover Apartment complex.
"My biggest concern is that no one asked us. No one asked us to be a part of this and we're the most affected group," Nebel said. "We had no voice and both plans that they laid out, it's the exact same plan for us, no matter what."
Nebel expressed the same concern as a lot of parents, that children will be shipped to schools that are much farther away.
"I was asking (district officials) if they were going to stagger times so we could pick both kids up, and they have no answers for us yet. They haven't had discussions about that yet and their comment was to put it on the online survey," one father complained.
Prasad Chienthekunta said there's a large Asian population in the east side apartment complexes and he says the community feels alienated.
"Those kids are going to Benjamin school right now, they've been there the past three years and they're very comfortable now," Chienthekunta said. "Now suddenly they are switching everyone to different schools so that causes panic in the community."
Parents wanted a chance to speak in front of a crowd to voice concerns and ask questions.
"They called us here for a forum and it wasn't a forum, it was an informational session," Nebel said.
"Things were very rough because there were a lot of questions and they weren't able to face the audience. They didn't have a proper question-answer session at the end," Chienthekunta said.
Niehaus said the options are drafts pending the feedback from the forum.
Surveys are due March 5 and the committee will meet March 6 to put a recommendation together for the board of education to consider at the March 13 meeting. Niehaus said parents are welcome to comment at the meeting as well.
To take the survey or see the redistrict maps, go to the Unit 5 website.
Stephanie Pawlowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.