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Pasco parent concerns rise as plan advances to send their children to different schools

The School Board will hold a public hearing Tuesday to hear more community input.

Plans to reassign the Seven Oaks subdivision of Wesley Chapel into the Cypress Creek Middle-High School attendance zone have been in the works for at least two years.

Few people complained when officials first floated the change. Many expressed satisfaction that they weren’t affected by the rezoning that occurred when Cypress Creek first opened.

But now the proposal to move about 1,000 students is headed to the Pasco County School Board for a Nov. 5 hearing and Nov. 19 vote. And criticisms have begun to surface.

Among them, many families simply want to stick with the schools they know and like.

Perhaps the single most mentioned concern that parents have mentioned in written comments to the district focus on the long distance from their community to the campus — 10 miles or more — particularly when compared to the much shorter drive to Wiregrass Ranch High/John Long Middle, their current schools.

They’ve noted the left-hand turns onto busy roads during high traffic hours and the two-lane roads that clog in bad weather, and suggested that the route won’t be safe for tired teen drivers trying to meet the early morning first bell.

That’s not all.

Some have played the “it’s our school” card, arguing that newer housing developments should be shifted to Cypress Creek. That would leave their more established neighborhood intact in the school it has come to see as its own.

And many have complained that their families shouldn’t have to suffer because of government’s poor performance. If only the county government and school district had better planned, they suggested, perhaps this third school boundary revision in a decade wouldn’t be needed.

“This proposal and its implementation may help the county deal with its failures to plan for growth, but it will be harmful for my children,” parent Rebecca Van Damme wrote to the district.

Related: <b>RELATED: </b> Latest east Pasco school rezoning gets subdued reaction from parents

She was among several commenters who, assuming the rezoning will win approval, asked whether children in specialty programs such as Wiregrass Ranch’s medical track would be able to complete them.

According to the district, students whose programs don’t exist elsewhere would be allowed to finish.

But officials said those whose courses are available at Cypress Creek, whether inclusion gifted or orchestra or business academy, would not be considered a high priority for school choice back to their original campuses.

That information has sparked some families to ask the district for other solutions that would not disrupt their children’s education as much as they anticipate. Many parents noted their primary concern is separating their children from friends, teachers and an environment they have grown accustomed to and successful in.

“Students like mine who are halfway through their high school experience should see the benefits of the work he's done for the school in these first two years, and should now be concentrating on their GPA, college testing and applications, etc. Not adjusting to a brand new school where they do not know any students, teachers, coaches, and counselors,” parent Kimberly Knorowski wrote to the board.

A group of Seven Oaks residents have sought a middle ground. They want the School Board to do what former member Steve Luikart once tried in vain to implement — a phased in rezoning, even without transportation if that’s what it takes.

They’d like to see all the students finish the highest grade level in the school they’re currently in. After that, everyone in the community would begin attending the new schools.

“While the need to alleviate overcrowding is important, I encourage you to do so while also choosing the method that is the least disrupting to our young people,” parents Mike and Cheryl Schulze wrote to the district. “It's easy to get lost in the numbers, but our sons and daughters are not numbers. Please allow them to have the high school experience they have dreamed of and deserve.”

Superintendent Kurt Browning didn’t envision that happening, though.

“Not with the numbers we’re seeing for Wiregrass Ranch,” Browning said.

To make it work, Browning said, the high school would have to return to a 10-period day — something it tried before Cypress Creek opened.

Related: <b>RELATED: </b> Longer days at Wiregrass Ranch High have relieved congestion, lessened stress

The superintendent has said he would prefer not to implement that largely unpopular schedule again.

“But I’m sure we’ll hear about it at the hearing,” Browning said about the phase-in proposal.

The hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Land O’Lakes.

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