Parents express concern over Huntsville rezoning in first public forum

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -  Dozens of concerned Huntsville residents packed into the theater at Lee High School with the future of children's education on their minds.

Last June, a federal judge ordered Huntsville City Schools and the U.S. Department of Justice to mediation after hearing rezoning plans. Last Monday, both sides released a proposed consent order intended to solve their differences.

Saturday was the first of three public forums for people to voice their opinions about the order.

"What I don't want to see happen is me going to Huntsville High," said Jena Batiz, a freshman at Grissom. "I don't think it's fair. I want to graduate where I want to graduate.  Especially when we were promised I could stay at Grissom."

Speakers expressed their thoughts before a board of district leaders, Department of Justice officials and a moderator.

"Our school board has a history of non-compliance with the current court order," said parent Mike Jennings. "This consent is just a vehicle by which they hope to obtain unitary status."

There were concerns about a proposed lottery determining which black students would transfer to mostly white schools.  But the rezoning plan brought much to light beyond racial makeup of different schools.

"I wanted to make sure we got information on where my special needs child was going," said father Alex White.  He said moving across town is an especially big risk for special needs kids -- and said the district is failing to address parental concerns.

"They've made the segregation worse. They are not acting in the needs of minorities at all, and this is another minority they are not acting in the needs of," said White.

Superintendent Casey Wardynski and representatives from the DoJ refused to comment or answer any questions from the crowd, due to the gag order issued by the court.  Many of the parents who spoke before them say their biggest problem is the lack of transparency.

"We had no idea that there was going to be no grandfather clause," said Allison Kowalczyk, who has four kids threatened with being spread across the district. "My 10th grader would have to move for his junior year."

Many others would also be shifted from the school they live closest to, or are currently attending.

"It's easier to move teachers around," said mother Tedi Batiz. "Offer the same programs at each school, and see if that works first before moving children around. They look at numbers, they don't look at families and they don't look at individuals."

There are two more public forums on the matter: the second forum will be Monday at Columbia High School. The third will be Tuesday at Huntsville High. Both meetings start at 6 pm.