Rezoning meeting at Golden Gate High School
NAPLES — The Collier County School Board voted to rezone some high schools in the district but decided to hold off on a decision about elementary schools during a meeting Thursday evening.
The decision brought some smiles, some tears and lots of anger as parents and students left the School Board’s chambers.
“We could not please every parent,” said Board Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo. “But we listened. ... And in the end, I think we will have more equitable numbers at our high schools, which means equitable curriculum, equitable sports teams and equity in the use of our facilities. In my heart, I am convinced every board member diligently thought about this and did what they thought was best.”
The final vote to rezone high schools was unanimous, though it took a few failed attempts to get there.
The board voted to rezone the Berkshire Lakes neighborhood from Naples High School to Lely High School and the Logan Woods neighborhood from Gulf Coast High to Naples High.
The board also voted to leave the southern half of the Collier Woods neighborhood at Gulf Coast High School so it would not split up the neighborhood. A proposal called for the area to be sent to Golden Gate High School.
Naples attorney Eric Vasquez, speaking for a large group of residents sitting in the audience, said the proposal would effectively send one half of the neighborhood to Golden Gate High School while the northern half of Collier Woods would be sent to Gulf Coast High School.
“In adopting this, you are going against your stated purpose to keep neighborhoods together,” he said. “To rezone these four streets out is inappropriate.”
Board members agreed, saying the neighborhood had been working to unify since 2000 and students should not be separated.
The board agreed that rising juniors and seniors would be exempt from the rezoning so they could finish their careers at their current high schools.
Postponing the district’s elementary schools in Naples and Immokalee for a few months, will give the School Board time to see if the Legislature reaches a decision on a possible change to the class size amendment.
The decision came after district officials said elementary school scheduling does not occur until April or May and the schools will only have to be rezoned if the current version of the class size amendment is upheld.
High school rezoning, on the other hand, could not wait. Chief Operations Officer Michele LaBute said the district has been delaying rezoning of the high schools for too long, particularly when it comes to overcrowding at Gulf Coast High School. The school saw a 3 percent increase in students this fall.
The public hearing became acrimonious, with audience members booing, shouting and clapping depending on what was said.
Audience members had angry words for School Board member Steve Donovan, for a letter he wrote, which appeared in the Feb. 2 Daily News.
In the letter, Donovan said he had no ulterior motive for wanting rezoning and said some Berkshire Lakes residents were against it “due to their desire not to share classroom space with children of other ethnic backgrounds.”
Parents took the letter to mean Donovan was calling them racists.
Donovan has since apologized.
But that apology was not good enough for Jennifer Hecker, who said her 13-year-old son was receiving hate e-mail labeling him a racist.
“Never have I spoken before a board that was so out of touch. ... Where is your integrity?” Hecker said. “This is not numbers shuffling, this is about people. ... There is nothing people won’t do to preserve the things they believe are best for their children.”
When Hecker refused to leave the podium after her allotted three minutes were up and continued speaking, deputies were called to remove her.
Hecker raised her hands as if she were prepared for the deputies to handcuff her to remove her from the room. Instead, a member of the audience came forward, kissed her on the cheek, and pulled her away from the deputies.
“They deserved an act of civil disobedience,” she said after the meeting.
Karl Glander, a Berkshire Lakes resident, urged the board to grandfather current freshmen, too.
“The transition from middle to high school is one of the biggest a student can make,” he said. “You are going to make them do it again with a new school, new students.”
Glander also took issue with Donovan, asking what recourse parents would have if their students were hurt because of his comments in the paper.
“Have you actually visited our schools?” he asked Donovan. “Naples High School has a very diverse population. The issue we have is with the disruption socially and academically.”
Curatolo said she was concerned about Naples High School and the board’s decision to remove the Logan Woods neighborhood and the Berkshire Lakes neighborhood from the school. She said she thought one of the neighborhoods should be rezoned to Naples High School.
Board member Terry agreed, saying he thought the Logan Woods neighborhood should be rezoned to Naples High School.
But Superintendent Dennis Thompson disagreed. He said parents told him that they did not want their students to attend schools in three different zones. He admitted the district had a flawed logic with the original plan, but said the district rectified that by moving the neighborhood to Golden Gate High School, which would allow them to attend high school with some of their middle school peers.
“Now I am hearing that they would accept Naples High or Barron. That flies in the face of what they told us,” he said to boos from the crowd. “We listened to what they had to say.”
After the meeting, Logan Woods parent Randy Durham said the parents never asked to be rezoned to Golden Gate High School.
“It was never a high school issue for us at all,” he said. “The problem we have is with our kids being rezoned from Osceola to Golden Gate (elementary schools). It was a disjointed feeder system. ... But we are happy. It could be worse.”
David and Michelle Rogers, who bought their home in what they thought was the Gulf Coast High School zone, told Board members in no uncertain terms that their daughter, a sophomore, would attend Gulf Coast High School or she would be home schooled.
“I am not going to let my daughter go to Golden Gate,” David Rogers said. “It is not because of who is in the school. It is a stability issue. My daughter will not be a pawn.”
Their daughter will get to stay, however, because the board grandfathered her in.
Hecker left the meeting disappointed, saying she thought that the people with better representation at the meeting fared better. She said she did not believe the “district’s plan to socially engineer schools” would work.
“It’s not going to fix the root problems,” she said. “In a few years, you are going to have overcrowded schools at those schools that are better performing. It is sad. It was an unfair decision.”