Parents with children potentially affected by a redistricting of DeKalb County elementary schools in anticipation of Dunwoody’s new Austin Elementary School say they are mainly concerned with how the plan addresses traffic and enrollment increases. Parents also had mixed feelings about opening the new school with portable classrooms.

The new, 950-seat Austin opens in January 2020 at 5321 Roberts Drive and the new districts will be in effect in August 2020. The district originally planned to use the current Austin site, 5435 Roberts Drive, but now says it is unfeasible. In the long term, additional seats will be needed for overcrowding issues, the district says, but it is unclear if or when another elementary school will be built.

The surrounding elementary schools currently over capacity are Dunwoody, Chesnut, Hightower and Vanderlyn. In addition to Austin, the redistricting process of changing school attendance zones could impact any of the Dunwoody Cluster elementary schools, the district says.

The first of three public input meetings about the redistricting was held Sept. 26 at Dunwoody High School. During a small group session, parents expressed concern about longer travel times and traffic.

“When you go from one side of Dunwoody to the other or you go from one side to the other, gridlock traffic is already pretty intense,” one parent said.

Parents also questioned possible enrollment increases from residential development and other growth.

“Any development through the Perimeter Mall…any of those that involve residential development will currently zone into Dunwoody Elementary,” one parent said. “So that has to be considered.”

“I think we are grossly not capturing the turnover of our current neighborhoods,” another parent said. “I think we can all speak for the amount of homes being sold as people age out, and they are all young people coming in.”

One of the potential solutions from the district in response to overflowing school populations is to open the new elementary school with portable classrooms, which parents had mixed views on.

Many DeKalb schools are currently using portable classrooms either in the form of trailers to house students and teachers no longer able to fit into the main school buildings.

Dunwoody parents and residents have been locked in a years-long battle with DeKalb Schools officials criticizing the use of trailers as the solution for schools being over capacity.

The room was split about 50/50, with some parents saying the trailers are a viable short-term solution, but others saying that gives school officials no motivation to find a long-term solution.

“There is not going to be a person in Dunwoody that wants portable classrooms,” one parent said. “This is more about it being shared equally amongst all the elementary schools.”

“If we cave and say ‘Sure, we are fine with portables,’ we all know they won’t leave,” a parent in opposition said.

District 1 Board of Education member Stan Jester was in attendance and encouraged parents to reach out to the district with their support in using Doraville United Elementary for overcrowding relief for Hightower. That would not move Hightower from the Dunwoody to the Doraville cluster, he said.

A second meeting to present redistricting options will be held Oct. 23, 7-8:30 p.m., at Dunwoody High School, 5035 Vermack Road. A final redistricting plan will be presented at a third meeting on Nov. 20.

Hannah Greco

Hannah Greco is writer and media communications specialist based in Atlanta.