The Collier County School District will decide how to rezoning elementary and high schools at a meeting tonight at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center, 5775 Osceola Trail.
The meeting is the last opportunity to comment on the rezoning proposal before the Collier County School Board takes a final vote.
The district has said the rezoning is necessary in order to ensure Collier schools comply with the class size amendment, which goes into full effect in August. The class size amendment, which was passed by voters in 2002, requires schools to limit the number of students in core classes such as math and science to 18, 22 or 25 students, depending on the grade of the child.
Parents and students have protested the changes. They argue, among other things, that their property values will go down and that their children will suffer emotionally and academically if forced to change schools.
5 p.m. The Collier County School Board is about to return from a 10-minute break. Parents and students have started filing in to address the rezoning issue. Some of them are wearing red in protest over their anger at the possible rezoning. Several have already filled out hot pink comment cards to speak about the issue.
5:10 p.m. Superintendent Dennis Thompson said the Collier County School Board could delay a decision on the elementary school rezoning until April, but has asked the Collier County School Board to make a recommendation on high school rezoning tonight.
Chief Operations Officer Michele LaBute has recommended that the elementary school rezoning be delayed until the legislature moves forward with a possible change to the amendment. She said the scheduling does not begin until April or May at the elementary school level and the district can delay to see what becomes of a measure to put changes to the amendment on the ballot.
Commissioner Tom Henning said the parents want to work with the Collier County School Board to ensure that changes to the legislation pass in Tallahassee.
The Collier County School Board unanimously approved postponing rezoning in the elementary schools in Naples.
5:15 p.m. The Collier County School Board also unanimously approved postponing rezoning in the elementary schools in Immokalee. The vote came after LaBute recommended delaying the rezoning, saying scheduling could wait and the district would not have to rezone the elementary schools if the class size amendment is changed.
Board Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo has now opened the public hearing on high school rezoning.
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.
"We recommend that we proceed with this rezoning," she said.
5:27 p.m. After LaBute presented the changes to the zone, the board is ready to hear public comment.
Board Vice Chairwoman Julie Sprague asked that the board consider grandfathering juniors and seniors before public comment to "alleviate some of the fear."
School Board member Steve Donovan said the administration asked for a "clean vote" on the rezoning issue before working on policy changes.
The board, on advice of attorney Jon Fishbane, will decide on grandfathering until after the vote on rezoning.
Naples attorney Eric Vasquez, speaking for a large group of residents sitting in the audience, said rezoning students from 7th Avenue Southwest, 5th Avenue Southwest, 3rd Avenue Southwest and 1st Avenue Southwest would be breaking up the Collier Woods neighborhood. He said the board would effectively send that 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."
Joe Whitehead, a candidate for Collier County School Board District 5, brought up Thompson's assertion at the last meeting that Berkshire Lakes did not need to be rezoned to Lely High School, a recommendation the board voted down last month.
"You will make a decision tonight that will affect these people," he said. "And on Aug. 28, they may make a decision based on the decision you make tonight."
The audience responded with wild cheers.
Audience members have nothing but angry words for Board member Steve Donovan, for his letter to the editor in which, as parents assert, he
called them "racists" for not wanting their children to attend another school.
Donovan, who never said the word racist, has apologized for his letter, saying he painted a broad brush and was writing as himself, not for the board.
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?" she said. "This is not numbers shuffling, this is about people."
She said parents were not wrong for wanting their children to attend a school that is safe with good academics. When Hecker refused to leave the podium after her three minutes were up and continued speaking, deputies were called to remove her from the podium.
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.
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 out schools?" he asked Donovan. "Naples High School has a very diverse population. The issue we have is with the disruption socially and academically."
Naples High School is 60 percent white and about 26 percent Hispanic, with other races comprising the other 14 percent, according to the district's Web site.
The public has had its say and now it is the Collier County School Board's turn.
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.
Terry agreed, saying he thought the Logan Woods neighborhood should be rezoned to Naples High School.
But 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."
The board seems to be leaning towards it original proposal, which would rezone Logan Woods to Naples High School and Berkshire Lakes to Lely High School. The board appears to also be leaning towards a motion that would keep all of Collier Woods at Gulf Coast High School.
Terry asked if the board could address the grandfathering issue after the board voted, but was told by Jon Fishbane that the issue would have to be addressed at the next meeting, because it was not advertised on the agenda. That led to groans and shouts from angry parents.
Curatolo took a five minute recess to discuss the issue with Fishbane.
After discussion, Fishbane said the board could bring up the issue of grandfathering, but any proposed policy changes could not move forward until the next meeting.
Carroll made the motion to move forward with the boundaries as originally presented, which would send Logan Woods to Naples High School and Berkshire Lakes to Lely High School.
Terry tried to add on something to the motion, but was told the motion could not be amended.
The Collier County School Board voted 3 to 2 to defeat the motion. Carroll and Donovan voted in favor.
Terry then made the motion to move forward with the boundaries as originally presented, but would keep the Collier Woods neighborhood in Gulf Coast High School. His motion also includes grandfathering current high school students, or current freshmen, sophomores and juniors.
Motion dies for lack of second.
Donovan made the motion to keep the original rezoning plan, but keep Collier Woods neighborhood in Gulf Coast High School. The motion would also grandfather in rising juniors and seniors.
The motion passes unanimously.
The board will address the policy change for rising juniors and seniors at its March meeting.