On Tuesday evening, the Stafford County School Board faced the daunting task of making the final decision on which neighborhoods will be subject to the redistricting of Colonial Forge High School.
At a quiet meeting, coming at the end of months of contentious and emotional discussions, the board voted 5–1—with one abstention—for Option A. This means that the Autumn Ridge and North Embrey Mill neighborhoods will be going to North Stafford High School.
“As I look into the crowd, there are not many people here and I think that is a sign we are all tired and everything has been said,” Christopher Connelly, Garrisonville District, said.
The School Board has held multiple work sessions, public hearings and community information meetings to discuss options to address overcrowding at CFHS and other schools.
At a meeting last week, the board decided on two options for the CFHS redistricting.
The only difference between the two options is that Option A would move area planning unit (APU) 166—Autumn Ridge and North Embrey Mill—to North Stafford High School, while Option B would redistrict students from APU 163, which includes Arbor Glen and Marshall Estates, to North Stafford.
Both options move APUs, 117, 124, 142, 143 and 187 out of Colonial Forge.
Those areas include the Locklears, Peppermint Forest, Lake Estates, Manor Wood, Water Edge, Holly Corner, River Ridge, Rivergate and Abel Lake neighborhoods, as well as some other homes.
Holly Hazard, Hartwood District member and chairwoman of the School Board, made a motion to leave Holly Corner out of Option A, since it is not a high growth area and local students would eventually attend the much-talked-about sixth high school once it is built. But the motion failed 3-3, with one person abstaining.
Several school board members chose to support Option A on the basis that it would provide the most relief in both the short and long term.
Patricia Healy, Rockhill District, said that the hardest part of being on the School Board is redistricting because it impacts families, but it is also a necessity to move students when schools become overcrowded.
“I support Option A because I think it accomplishes the goals the school board set last fall, and will provide relief in the coming year,” she said. “Whatever relief we can provide incrementally until we get to 2021 when we are so far in red will be helpful for Forge.”
Connelly, who cast the only dissenting vote for Option A, said he believed the other option would provide the most relief in the long-term.
“Forge doesn’t need immediate relief; it needs it over four years,” he said. “Option B does give the most relief for most minimal impact.”
Dewayne McOsker, George Washington District, chose to abstain from voting for either option because he felt redistricting CFHS for the next school year is premature and too reliant on the expectation of a sixth high school.
“But I don’t see a $120 million high school happening,” he said. “Until the Board of Supervisors and School Board come together and say they are going to do it, then we can talk redistricting.”
The School Board also approved “grandfathering” and “sibling” options.
All rising 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders who currently attend CFHS will be given the option to remain until graduation. However, they will not be offered transportation.
To avoid enrollment of siblings in multiple high schools, the sibling option allows rising 7th-, 8th- and 9th-graders to attend CFHS if they have a sibling who lives at the same address enrolled during the time they will be attending CFHS. They will also be responsible for their own transportation.
“Through this process, we have heard a lot of different opinions and input, but the one thing that has been clear from the community is that we need to do everything we can do to keep current students and siblings at CFHS,” Connelly said. “We have crunched the numbers, and we can do it.”
The only dissenting vote on the grandfathering and siblings options was from Irene Egan, Aquia District.
“I don’t think this will help us with our numbers, but my biggest opposition is that several years ago when we went through a redistricting, we had several parents beg us for grandfathering and it was a flat no,” Egan said. “We are setting a precedent that could muck up waters down road with the sixth high school.”
If a sixth high school is built, all students at CFHS under the grandfathering and sibling options will be eligible for redistricting.
Several School Board members decided on Option A on the understanding that a sixth high school will be built. Although there is a sixth high school in the capital improvement plan, or CIP, the roughly $120 million price tag has delayed the project.
Egan, however, said she is confident the sixth high school will be pushed up on the CIP, especially with the potential that the School Board will be working with the Board of Supervisors to create a joint CIP, which could help prioritize major school projects. She supported Option A as a means to get there.
“I have read everyone’s emails, and the community seems to be on same page for demand that we need high school number six and I am confident it will get pushed up on CIP,” she said. “We are going to be working closely with county on things like this and I truly believe this is a need the whole county wants.”
Although the redistricting process has been riddled with heated discussions, several school members agreed that the process brought about a positive result—more engagement with the community.
“What has been amazing during this process is engaging and getting to know community,” Hazard said. “Sometimes it has been heated and sometimes it hasn’t, but we know it is because you care.”
All redistricting actions will take effect for the start of the 2017–18 school year.