New Elementary Zone Proposals Cause More Controversy

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The Rockford school district's update on a proposed elementary zoning plan and questions about a sex offender policy had parents flocking to Tuesday night's school board meeting.
The boardroom was packed with parents, students and teachers from Bloom, Haskell and Rolling Green Elementary Schools raising their voices against the current proposals.
Bloom parent Tonia Phippen says, "I feel I must draw attention to what I view as a dangerous desensitization among those with decisive power in this district. It has clearly become acceptable to shuffle children as if they were playing cards, deal them out and gamble with their young lives."
Despite community concerns, the updated plan district leaders unveiled looks very similar to the controversial recommendations a committee presented a few weeks back.
Haskell would no longer be a year round academy. The spanish immersion program would move from Barber to either Bloom or Spring Creek and Washington would shut down.
The plan also says the majority of students at every elementary school should live within in a one and a half mile from the school. The schools would also be clustered within the the vicinity of specific middle schools.
The proposals presented Tuesday night contain no provision for trying to socio-economically balance Rockford's elementary schools. That's because the administration says the geographic areas around elementary schools are too small. Board member Mike Williams called that a potentially disasterous oversight. He adds this plan is in no way a step in the right direction for students, especially those of lower socio-economic status. The superintendent and other board members believe there are ways to ensure acadmic excellence at all schools, such as persuading more tenured teachers to work at more challenged schools.
The board is scheduled to give its final approval of the zoning plan on January 8th. But before then you can voice your opinion at four public forums. They will be held Saturday November 24th at 9:00 A.M. at Jefferson High School; Wednesday November 28th at 7:00 P.M. at Lincoln Middle School; Saturday December 1st at 9:00 A.M. at the Roosevelt Center; and Wednesday December 5th at 7:00 P.M. at Kennedy Middle School.
Board member Jeanne Westholder tried to delay the forums. She says the process is moving too quickly and it will be difficult for many parents to make public forums held over Thanksgiving weekend.
But other board members overruled her. They say delaying the forums would not give enough time to start new elementary school zones in the 2008-09 school year, if board members decide that's what they want to do.
Also Tuesday night three parents from Thompson Elementary voiced their frustrations with the district for not establishing a policy to check for sex offenders in district schools. This comes after a registered sex offender chaperoned a Thompson field trip late last month.
"We shouldn't have to worry when they walk in the door of that building. They're there to get an education in a safe environment and when you know that there could be a predator either on the grounds, or on a trip or with them in the building, that puts every child at risk," says Thompson parent Rhonda Heflin.
Superintendent Linda Hernandez says board members will talk about expanding the district's sex offender policy at their next meeting.

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