Few parents raise concerns ahead of Pasco school rezoning

The School Board will hold a call-in public hearing Tuesday evening.
Students and parents arrive for the first day of classes at Hudson Elementary School in Pasco County. The school will close in the fall.
Students and parents arrive for the first day of classes at Hudson Elementary School in Pasco County. The school will close in the fall. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times ]
Published Apr. 6, 2020|Updated Apr. 8, 2020

Even after the governor’s stay home order, the Pasco County School Board still plans to hold a public hearing Tuesday on proposed new attendance zones for northwest county elementary schools.

And while residents may come to the board room in Land O’Lakes, where a handful of officials will gather, the district is encouraging everyone to participate from a distance instead.

Since first announcing it would accept comments in person or via email, the board has decided to conduct its session via telephone conference call. Members of the public can call in to listen and, when the time comes, an operator will open the line to anyone who signals a desire to speak.

The board will continue to keep its guidelines of three minutes per speaker, and will have the ability to cut off those who violate that time frame as well as other rules of decorum.

The number to call is 1-877-271-1828, passcode 44495805.

“I think that’s an excellent way to do it,” said board member Alison Crumbley, who advocated against an in-person session and planned to attend remotely.

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Board members and staff did give some thought to delaying the hearing, given the coronavirus pandemic has diverted attention away from the rezoning, which often becomes a contentious issue among families who don’t want to send their children to different schools.

In the months after the board’s January vote to shut down Hudson Elementary and send its students elsewhere, though, the community feedback has been fairly quiet, at least publicly. Fewer than a dozen residents submitted comments through the district’s online system, and board members said they had received almost no emails.

That response came even after the district sent both automated calls and emails to potentially affected homes, reminding them of the pending changes and providing links to all the proposals.

“They know how to reach me,” said board member Megan Harding, who represents the region and has spent much time in the schools reaching out to families.

Harding acknowledged that holding the public hearing, with a final vote on the new boundaries to come at the next meeting, comes at an unfortunate time.

“But we still have to do it,” she said. “We have to rezone. We have to put those kiddos somewhere.”

Crumbley agreed, and suggested that if the board does not act now, it leaves the administration in a tough spot to prepare for the next academic year.

“Parents do need to know where their children are going to school,” she said.

If residents want to physically attend the board meeting, they are to watch from outside the board room and will be allowed to participate according to set social distancing guidelines. They also can submit written comments through the district’s communication portal.

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For anyone who wants to watch but not go to the district offices, the board meeting is set to be streamed live on the district website.