Dozens of residents spoke up at the rescheduled public hearing on the redistricting of Colonial Forge High School Thursday night at the school, addressing issues from the proximity of students to their assigned school to inequity in the county’s high schools.
Throughout the last two months, exchanges have grown more heated as neighborhoods protested being moved. County residents have been increasingly openly critical of North Stafford High School, which with Mountain View High School was identified as a receiving school for a total of 400 students over the next four years.
Colonial Forge is now two students over its 2,150 capacity, according to administrators. But in six years, projections show it is expected to be 20 percent over capacity, so the district needs to make room.
“We have certain excellent schools, but many neglected schools. That’s precisely why this is so emotional, heated and difficult,” resident Jeff Kratowicz said.
North Stafford is one of the oldest buildings in the county, residents have said. It is not clear what differences in curriculum or other programs there may be between the two schools.
The Stafford County School Board will hold another work session before its next meeting on March 14 to discuss whether to make any changes to the seven options developed over the last two months. The redistricting is on the March 14 agenda as an information item, but the board does not plan to vote until March 28, school officials said.
In a public Facebook post, board member Irene Egan spoke out against the rhetoric used by some residents.
“For those that may choose to talk about home devaluation and demotion of our student body based on class categorization, know that you will lose this member’s interest in what you are falsely propagating,” Egan wrote. “Furthermore, any discussion of demoralizing our fine teaching staff will not be tolerated by this school board member. When you speak negatively of that school, you speak negatively of our teachers, and I WON’T HAVE IT!”
For the first time Thursday, a parent spoke in defense of North Stafford, where current and former students and families have pride in their “North Nation.”
“Intelligent people, educated people of Stafford County continually say ... that Colonial Forge is a better school,” Eric Taylor said. “To me, that speaks to inequity in the schools. I’m here to ask you to level the playing field. ... Make North Stafford the gem of Stafford County.”
Two of the options, numbers 2 and 5, appeared to be the same on the worksheet released by the district, but board members told The Free Lance-Star Thursday night that there was a mistake in the second option.
On the worksheet, the second option includes planning unit 187, Abel Lake and Lake Ridge, being rezoned to Mountain View, but option No. 2 was not intended to move those neighborhoods at all, board members said.
Several neighborhoods slated to be moved in most options are closer to Colonial Forge than they would be to their new school, many residents said, while other students currently have long bus rides to Forge.
Stafford High School, the closest physical high school to most students with long bus rides, is already at capacity.
“I would ask you in this redistricting to please redistrict by proximity,” resident Dana Brown said. “Don’t make kids drive past another district school to get to their school.”
Several residents criticized what they called a “Band-Aid” solution. The board is trying to affect the fewest students as the county explores construction of a new high school, but several residents have said they would prefer a larger-scale redistricting rather than a piecemeal approach.
Resident Aymee Lubinski teared up as she explained the impact the redistricting will have on her family, with one high school student and two elementary school students.
In her military family, her oldest son has at times had trouble making friends, but the ninth-grader has flourished at Forge, she said. Now, because every option moves her neighborhood, Water Edge, her son may have to watch his friends’ bus pass their house, while he attends Mountain View—where he won’t be able to take the AP courses he planned to sign up for.
He could be grandfathered in—but the family would have to provide transportation, and they can’t; and her younger children would not be able to attend the same school their brother had, even though one will be a freshman when he is a senior.
“I really urge you guys to please, please make sure this is the right thing to do ... because I don’t want to have to go through this again,” Lubinski said.