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Eastern Hillsborough high school students upset by rezoning proposal

PLANT CITY — Parents and teens chafed at a proposal to redraw attendance boundaries in eastern Hillsborough County, saying at a community meeting this week that the affected high school students would be wrongly uprooted.

Hillsborough school officials countered that the proposal is needed to relieve overcrowding. The plan would send 223 students from Durant High to Plant City High and 262 students from Durant to soon-to-open Strawberry Crest High. Additionally, 294 Armwood High students and 1,046 Plant City students would go to Strawberry Crest.

The proposal could be approved as early as a Feb. 10 School Board meeting. This comes as the district also aims to shuffle 1,914 students from Sickles, Alonso and Gaither high schools to the new Steinbrenner High.

The proposed attendance boundaries, drawn by Tampa-based research firm Seer Analytics, balance students' distance from schools with school capacity, said company president Bill Lazarus. Under the plan, schools would operate at 76 percent to 80 percent capacity, he said.

This would relieve Plant City High, which is now operating at 124 percent capacity, said Steven Ayers, the district's director of parent and community relations.

More than 400 people attended the meeting, held Monday at Plant City's Tomlin Middle School. Few seemed to like the district's plan.

Howard Randolph, with two sons at Durant, said moving students from there to Plant City could isolate transplants.

"There's something of a rivalry," he said.

And Kelly Johnson, a Durant sophomore who would attend Plant City under the plan, said that she had hoped to finish her education alongside her old kindergarten friends.

"We've been there for two years," she told district officials. "We expected to graduate with the kids we went to school with."

Other parents feared their children would be forced to abandon specific programs or courses, and parents and students alike worried about extracurricular activities and athletics.

Armwood parent Romaine Wright, on the other hand, told the crowd not to fear the changes. It could do a child good, she said, to attend school outside the comfort zone of his or her neighborhood.

"Diversity is a wonderful thing," she said.

Ayers said that the district recognizes parent and student worries, but that boundary changes are necessary for schools' long-term sustainability.

"Yes, it's uprooting, we understand," he said. But "we have to find relief for the schools that we have."

Victoria Bekiempis can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or vbekiempis@sptimes.com.

Eastern Hillsborough high school students upset by rezoning proposal 01/29/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 3:30am]

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