Orange County School Board members approved new plans — but not without hearing from concerned citizens.
West Orange residents raised number of concerns regarding middle- and elementary-school zoning options that were approved during the Orange County School Board meeting on April 24.
The zoning options pertain to one relief middle school and two relief elementary schools scheduled to be built in Horizon West. The middle school will relieve overcrowding in Bridgewater Middle, while the elementary schools will relieve overcrowding at Keene’s Crossing, Independence, Bay Lake and Sand Lake elementary schools. The relief schools have not yet been named and will open in the Fall 2019, said District 4 School Board Member Pam Gould.
“We approved a zoning option, but we did — after our workshop (in March) — have more of the community come out with concerns,” Gould said.
Gould added the two primary concerns residents raised pertained to communities being separated and distances from schools.
“One (concern) is the perception ... that some of the communities are slightly closer to one school than another,” Gould said. “The second (concern) is there is a large subdivision that is separated by Seidel Road and in the option that we were presenting forward … that subdivision was going to two different schools based on the division of Seidel Road.”
That large subdivision is the Watermark community. Carey Adams is a resident of Watermark and started a petition to oppose the zoning options that were approved by the school district.
“We went to the School Board to share that we oppose (the zoning), because they ultimately are breaking up our neighborhood,” Adams said. “We see ourselves as one neighborhood of Watermark. We just happened to be split by a main artery (road) through our neighborhood, but we do a ton of stuff together. The neighborhood acts as one.”
Resident Cynthia Dailey also started a petition opposing the zoning options that were approved. Dailey’s petition relates to the issue of distances from schools. Her petition notes the zoning does not line up with how Horizon West was planned. Each village in Horizon West is supposed to have an elementary school within walking distance of the homes.
“The purpose of the petition I started was to show the board during the meeting that residents of Horizon West want the concept of neighborhood elementary schools to be an important factor when they rezone in our area,” Dailey said. “There will be more rezonings as Horizon West grows. Not everyone will be happy with them, but if they respect the concept of the walkable neighborhoods attending the elementary in their own area — at least the lifestyle promised by that part of the masterplan will be upheld for the homes in the same neighborhoods as the schools as they are opened.”
Gould said to address these concerns, she recommended the school district consider targeted rezoning options in certain communities.
“Because of some of the concerns that were brought up … I recommended that we pass the (zoning) plan with the promise to come back by October with some targeted rezoning options or consideration of that,” she said. “We’re going to look at (the zoning) again based on the testimony that we got via email and heard. … Do we run into this (issue)? Yes, all the time. Do we try and accommodate it as much as we can? All of the time, because we don’t want to break up communities. We want to keep communities together as much as possible. Horizon West is unique because the whole community is not built.”
Adams and Dailey both responded to how the school board addressed their concerns.
“My hope is that they really do take it to heart and don’t split up neighborhoods and/or communities,” Adams said. “I think that their job is difficult. … They’ve got to decide to split it somewhere and they’re looking at a lot of different things.”
“I felt that (my) point was heard and respected during the (school) board meeting,” Dailey said. “Once Horizon West is built out, it will all normalize, and the growing pains and overcrowding will subside. But with the current rules about when new schools can be planned — overcrowded schools are a reality that all the residents in this area will just have to live with if they want all the benefits that come with living in such an amazing area.”
Orange County Public School’s Director of Student Enrollment Dr. Carol McGowin said some students may be eligible for a grandfathered transfer if the new zoning affects what school they attend. Students would just have to meet one of three criteria.
“As part of the rezoning adventure, the school board has put in place grandfather transfers to help … ease the transition rezoning causes,” McGowin said. “Either the student has been rezoned twice by OCPS at a given grade level, the student is being moved from an existing school to an existing school or the student is a rising fifth- or eighth-grader zoned to the relief school.”
The deadline to apply for a grandfather transfer is May 31. For more information on transfers visit, enrollment.ocps.net or call (407) 317-3233.