While many Dunwoody parents from larger schools are agreeing with a redistricting plan for the new Austin Elementary School, many others from smaller schools in the cluster are opposing it. They say the DeKalb County School District’s recommended plan, revealed on Nov. 20, unnecessarily moves students and does not equally share high-density housing areas.

Parents at Vanderlyn Elementary are especially unhappy, with many saying the plan did not reflect was seen in previous draft options.

“The Vanderlyn community felt blindsided by the staff-recommended proposal,” one parent said in an email.

“The biggest shock to Kingsley parents is the lack of voice that we have as a small school in the cluster,” another parent said in an email.

The DeKalb Schools staff-recommended redistricting plan for the new Austin Elementary School. (Special)

Parents expressed their concerns after the district presented a staff-recommended plan at a Nov. 20 meeting.

The meeting began with a large group presentation by Hans Williams, the director of planning in the operations division for DeKalb Schools. The attendees were then divided into facilitated small groups spread throughout the school’s hallways in about 20 rooms, with 20 people per room, to voice their opinions. Rooms were assigned by a random number found on the top of each participant’s handout.

In each room, the groups’ pros and cons were listed on sheets of paper that were to be passed on to the district. While opinions about impacts on specific schools varied, all groups were in agreement that the district has presented a lack of long-term solutions to the projected growth of the Dunwoody cluster and urged that another new school open.

“The plan leaves the other schools – Vanderlyn, Dunwoody Elementary, Kingsley and even Chesnut — with severe overcrowding issues and no long-term solution,” one parent said in an email.

The redistricting is for the new 950-seat Austin Elementary School in the Dunwoody cluster opening in January 2020 at 5321 Roberts Drive. The new districts will be in effect in August 2020.

The surrounding elementary schools currently over capacity are Chesnut, Dunwoody, Hightower and Vanderlyn. The redistricting process of changing school attendance zones could impact any of the Dunwoody Cluster elementary schools, the district says. The district plans to send its final recommendation to the Board of Education in January with a vote scheduled for February.

Parents said they were largely upset because the redistricting recommendation is not equitable in its distribution of the high-density housing pockets, or areas with a higher population than average, such as apartments, within the Dunwoody cluster.

“The most recent option presented takes approximately 30% of Vanderlyn’s single-family homes and replaces them with high-density housing that is by far closer in proximity to the new Austin Elementary,” one parent said in an email.

“Projected growth should be shared and it is not shared in this plan,” another parent said in an email.

The Vanderlyn parent-teacher organization and some Dunwoody homeowner associations are sending letters to the district expressing their discontent with the plan not keeping neighborhoods intact.

The PTO letter says that some families are being redistricted from a section of the current district that mainly consists of single-family homes. These families account for 25% to 30% of Vanderlyn’s current volunteer participation, PTO leadership and financial resources and the change will negatively impact the efficient and economical operations of Vanderlyn and the Dunwoody cluster as a whole, the letter says. Also, by replacing the single-family home section with the higher-density housing the plan proposes, it allows for more overcrowding.

“Prior to the presentation of this option, the Vanderlyn parents largely stood quiet as none of the three previously presented options had a major impact to Vanderlyn which we were OK with,” one parent said in an email. “While Vanderlyn would remain ‘overcrowded,’ we generally could live with this so long as our community/neighborhoods remained intact.

“History shows that [families in higher-density housing] tend to be more transient in nature and less committed to the community compared to the homeowners, who have a vested interest in maintaining the community they’ve invested in,” another parent said in an email.

The staff-recommended plan would move 106 students from Dunwoody to Austin and 78 students from Vanderlyn to Austin. The plan also would move 90 Dunwoody students to Vanderlyn; 40 Dunwoody students to Chesnut; 21 Vanderlyn students to Kingsley; 65 Hightower students to Kingsley; 2 Kingsley students to Vanderlyn; 6 Dunwoody students to Chesnut; and 17 Chesnut students to Hightower.

The staff-recommended plan also adds 106 Hightower students into the Doraville cluster at the new 950-seat Doraville United Elementary School opening in August 2020. The students would return to the Dunwoody cluster for middle school and high school at Peachtree Middle and Dunwoody High.

Parents from Dunwoody, Kingsley and Vanderlyn questioned the district’s decision to move students around Dunwoody schools with ultimately little to no overcrowding relief.

“This plan unnecessarily moves almost 200 students, causing disruption to the Vanderlyn community and emotional unrest for our children, all for a net reduction in enrollment of 7 students from our school,” one parent said in an email.

“Moving two students from Vanderlyn to Kingsley, six students from Dunwoody to Kingsley and eight students to Chesnut is frankly ridiculous and isolating, putting students miles away from their closest school neighbors, and in no way is a solution,” another parent said in an email. “DeKalb County has not done this thoughtfully and is disrupting hundreds of kids with no real progress.”

Many parents are suspicious of the staff-recommended plan because it does not reflect what was seen in the three drafted options presented in the second round.

“DCSD presented a staff-recommended plan that looked completely different than the earlier plans with areas in movement to Vanderlyn or away from Vanderlyn never before discussed,” one parent said in an email.

“The consensus is that the timing of the reveal of this plan in the last round while offering no hint of this direction in earlier rounds, is highly suspicious,” another parent said in an email.

“Everything that was presented by the Kingsley…community seems to have been completely ignored,” another parent said in an email.