A grass roots parent group with concerns about where the Pinellas school district's new student assignment plan is heading has decided to take its message to the streets.
Beginning this weekend, the parents will be going door to door in north Pinellas neighborhoods. Why? They're asking for signatures on a petition urging School Board members to reconsider superintendent Clayton Wilcox's recommendation to curtail grandfathering for students currently enrolled in Pinellas schools.
The new plan, which will replace the four-year-old "choice" system that allowed parents to select from a number of schools in an attendance area, will reassign children to a school "close" to home. That means thousands of children currently attending a "choice" school could be moved somewhere else.
Wilcox has said that students entering fourth and fifth grades when the new plan goes into effect in August 2008 possibly could remain at their old school. But Machon Kennedy, one of the petition's authors, thinks all children should have the option of remaining at their current school.
"What motivated me to go ahead and try to organize something is that I have one daughter who will be in fourth grade and one in first grade when this takes effect," Kennedy said. "Under the new plan, the fourth-grader might be able to stay, but the first-grader would not."
More than 400 parents have signed the petition already, which can be viewed at http://pinellasparentschoice.pbwiki.com/.
"We have teachers, grandparents, people who don't even have kids," Kennedy said. "All kinds of people are signing on to this because they think it's bad for kids and bad for the image of Pinellas County schools to have this instability."
Kennedy was among about two dozen parents who attended a School Board workshop Monday where details of the new plan were discussed. She left disappointed.
"I was glad to hear Mrs. (Linda) Lerner bring grandfathering up," Kennedy said. "But it didn't seem any of the other board members wanted to discuss it."
District officials say that if children are allowed to stay in their "choice" schools, they could be occupying seats that otherwise would go to neighborhood students, thus postponing implementation of the new neighborhood system.
They also say it would defeat the district's efforts to reduce busing costs if children are attending schools that are not the closest to home. But many parents who are advocating grandfathering say they would gladly drive their children to school if they can stay where they are.
Besides, Kennedy says, in an era of declining student enrollment, the district should be thinking about more than busing costs.
"I know a lot of kids who will be going to school at their kitchen table if things don't change," she said.
Donna Winchester, Pinellas education reporter