‘It breaks my heart.’ Wake parents say student assignment plan adds to COVID stress

·4 min read

Some Wake County parents pleaded Tuesday that student reassignment not be the latest burden placed on children still dealing with the stress of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Wake County school board is scheduled to vote next week on a plan that will move students in 2022 to fill new and under-enrolled schools and to ease crowding at other schools. At a public hearing Tuesday, multiple parents cited the instability caused by COVID as a reason for putting next school year’s assignment changes on hold.

“The effects of this global pandemic on the mental health of our students should be reason enough to postpone any and all reassignment discussions in our county,” said Cammy Sollie, a Raleigh parent.

Much of the plan involves filling three new schools: Apex Friendship Elementary in Apex, Barton Pond Elementary in Raleigh and Herbert Akins Road Middle in Fuquay-Varina. Student assignment staff have not said how many students are affected by the plan, but multiple media outlets have said that around 3,000 students could be moved.

Photo of Barton Pond Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C.
Photo of Barton Pond Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C.

The public can view the assignment plan at www.wcpss.net/2022enrollmentproposal. People can search whether their address is affected at wwwgis2.wcpss.net/addressLookup/proposalSecondDraft.

People can provide feedback at an online forum (wcpss.granicusideas.com).

COVID instability for students

Student reassignment historically has generated intense emotions from parents. Concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on children were mixed in Tuesday with the usual complaints about being moved to a more distant school.

Parents pointed to how unusual schooling has been since COVID-19 first became an issue in March 2020.

Students went months and in some cases even a year without having any in-person classes. Face-to-face instruction isn’t the same as before as students and school employees are still required to wear face masks inside buildings and in school buses.

“I know change is inevitable and kids need to be able to adjust,” Dana Tiller told the board. “But this major change is following two unstable school years because of COVID. Why do we need to make it three unstable years in a row?”

Tiller was among a group of Raleigh parents opposing a proposal to move students from Leesville Road High to Millbrook High.

Mental health impact of reassignment

Several parents from Abbotts Creek Elementary in Raleigh cited the lingering mental health effects from the pandemic to argue their children should not be moved to Durant Road Elementary.

“If you move our neighborhood out of Abbotts Creek, it will without a doubt separate this community that has provided the stability and comfort that these kids deserve and need more now than ever before,” said Caitie Duncan, a parent of two children at Abbotts Creek.

“It breaks my heart to even consider having to tell my children that they can no longer attend the school that has made them feel loved and secure while everything else in this world is uncertain.”

Danielle Smith, the parent of two Abbotts Creek students, said the board should be mitigating the impact of the pandemic instead of making things worse by having children change schools.

“We ask that you look at our children — such as my sons Tyler and Cooper — not just as numbers on a spreadsheet that you can shift to another column and just add to another school, but as people, as humans with feelings who will absolutely, undoubtedly be very affected by this,” Smith said.

Some of the students who could be moved would be able to stay at their current school — as long as they provide their own transportation.

Reassignment and masking

Several critics of Wake’s school face mask policy also turned out for the public hearing on the reassignment plan.

“It seems this board doesn’t value choice, choice in masking, choice in the COVID vaccine or parents’ choice in choosing a school,” said Kelly Grapentin, a Wake parent.

School board member Chris Heagarty praised the parents who came to bring their concerns about how the assignment plan affects their children. But Heagarty accused some other speakers of trying to “co-opt” the efforts of those parents who are directly impacted by the plan.

“I just find It really comical when people come up here and then say there’s no parent input or parent choice,” Heagarty said after the end of public comments. “You know these are national talking points people are pulling off social media to come in and push their own agenda about school board and school board politics.

“They’re taking up time that was for you the parents to come out who had issues with your reassignment plan.”

Student assignment staff say they will consider the feedback from parents before making any recommendations on changes to the plan before the Dec. 7 board vote. Board members said they’d weigh the concerns raised by parents.

“This is a very emotional subject,” said board member Heather Scott. “These are our babies and you know we have all been through a horrific time, so I did just want to extend my gratitude to everyone this evening.”

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