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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, May 28, 2020 2 months ago

Orange County School Board approves targeted rezonings

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The district will move about 175 students to new schools this fall to keep neighborhoods together and provide relief to overcrowded schools.
by: Danielle Hendrix Associate Editor

After the Orange County School Board approved three targeted rezonings, nearly 200 students in West Orange County will be heading to different schools this fall.

Targeted rezonings affect a small area and limited number of students. On Tuesday, May 12, the School Board approved unanimously the targeted rezonings that affect two communities in Southwest Orange and two subdivisions in Winter Garden.

At a mid-March community meeting, Dr. Carol McGowin, director of student enrollment at Orange County Public Schools, said the district uses a GIS mapping system with a development layer as tools in the rezoning process. Points of consideration include school enrollment counts, future development, infrastructure, feeder patterns and distance from schools.

The first rezoning affects 28 students in Dr. Phillips’ Sand Lake Hills neighborhood. These students will be moved from Chain of Lakes Middle School to Southwest Middle School. Until now, the subdivision was split between the two schools.

The second rezoning impacts 24 students in the area west of Turkey Lake Road and Interstate 4 near Hillenmeyer Way, stretching south to the intersection of Central Florida and Palm parkways. These students will be moved from Bay Meadows Elementary School to Sand Lake Elementary School.

The final targeted rezoning affects roughly 123 students in the Wintermere Pointe and Emerald Ridge neighborhoods in Winter Garden. These students are being moved from Whispering Oak Elementary School to Lake Whitney Elementary School. 

Parents of students who would be affected by the rezonings were encouraged to provide their input via community surveys, by email or through petitions.

Although the targeted rezonings are approved, affected students also have the option of a grandfathered transfer. Such transfers are available for students who are rezoned from one established school to another. In this case, a student can remain at the existing school rather than being assigned to the rezoned school. Grandfathered transfers also are available for students who have been rezoned by OCPS two or more times during a school level at the current address, or for those are rezoned for their fifth- or eighth-grade years. 

However, under the grandfathered transfer, OCPS does not provide transportation, and siblings must meet the same criteria for the transfer.

Michael Swickard, an Emerald Ridge resident, thanked the School Board for giving families the opportunity to make the decision with the grandfather clause as to whether their children could remain at their current school.

“We still have a lot of people joining our community on the west side (who) have already purchased homes, and we may not have the same rate of growth, but this will help to solve some of those issues.” — Pam Gould, Orange County School Board

“I would like to also ask that in the future … when you build the new relief school, that Emerald Ridge — the community that I live in that is in walking distance to Whispering Oak Elementary — would be considered to be put back into Whispering Oak Elementary,” Swickard said. “Emerald Ridge, like I said before, has a very safe walkway, is very close to it, and our community is strengthened by it.”

According to the May 12 School Board presentation, OCPS had not received any community response, whether in support or opposition, for the rezoning from Bay Meadows to Sand Lake Elementary.

For the Chain of Lakes Middle to Southwest Middle rezoning, the presentation states, the district received 12 responses in support of it and none in opposition. And for the Whispering Oak Elementary to Lake Whitney Elementary rezoning, the presentation states, no community response either in support or opposition was listed.

“I just want to thank all of my board members and the community for their participation in this unusual targeted rezoning and rezoning in order to help us manage the growth,” said Pam Gould, District 4 School Board member. “In spite of all the things that we are thinking about lately as it comes to COVID … we still have a lot of people joining our community on the west side that have already purchased homes, and we may not have the same rate of growth, but this will help to solve some of those issues.”

Danielle Hendrix is the Associate Editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. She is a 2015 graduate of the University of Central Florida, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in world comparative studies. ...

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