Butler, McDonnell schools to close under zoning plan

A standing room only crowd gathered at Thursday's meeting over school zoning plans.
A standing room only crowd gathered at Thursday's meeting over school zoning plans.

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - The board of Huntsville City Schools is addressing a controversial school zoning plan.

A standing-room-only crowd arrived Thursday at a special session to hear more details the plan and to updates on capital improvement projects.

There are a number of things Huntsville City Schools is doing as a result, including raising graduation rates, building new schools, improving older ones, establishing a feeder program that would change where some students go to school, and re-zoning the districts.

The plan the government approved in May includes a new high school in north Huntsville, a new Grissom High School, and a 9th grade academy at Huntsville High. New zones would be created for the new buildings.

Feeder program changes would affect Morris Elementary, Ridgecrest Elementary, McDonnell Elementary, Jones Valley Elementary, and Whitesburg Pre-K through eighth grade.

Butler High is slated to be closed by June 2016. McDonnell Elementary would close by June 2015 with students reassigned to Chaffee, Whitesburg and Monte Sano campuses.

Dr. Casey Wardynski said the plans are the result of a domino effect - when you re-draw a line or build a new school, you have to make adjustments. He said the changes would promote efficiency and diversity.

It is all part of an effort by Huntsville City Schools to get out from under a 1970 desegregation order and achieve unitary status.

The school board needs federal approval for the proposal before any part of the plan comes to fruition, due to a desegregation order Huntsville City Schools must abide by that was handed down in the 1970s. While officials try to get that order lifted, any projects that involve new or consolidated schools must get federal approval.

The full process includes the board proposal, a series of public meetings, a further proposal to the Department of Justice, and then a ruling by a federal judge.

Many parents and alumni who attended the Thursday proposal are unhappy with the plan.

Casey Brown, President of the Johnson High Alumni Association, takes issue with the system seeking unitary status. "The actions they are taking are pure segregation. You are merging every minority failing school onto one piece of land with schools with all black names," he said.

Eddgra Fallin is a product of the Huntsville school system and said schools today are still segregated and look nothing like they did in the 70s when the desegregation order was put into place.

"I want those schools back, where every child, regardless of their address or circumstance, had access to a good quality public education," Fallin said.

Wardynski said he is confident the changes are what's best for students, but the Department of Justice is coming up with a plan of their own. The district will hopefully work out something both parties can agree on. He said his plan could save the district $5 million a year in operating costs.

Several public forums will be held at six Huntsville high schools to get public reaction to the plan. They are as follows:

  • Jan. 30, 5:00 p.m. - Lee High School
  • Jan. 31, 5:00 p.m. - Grissom High School
  • Feb. 1, 9:00 a.m. - Huntsville High School
  • Feb. 3, 5:00 p.m. - Johnson High School
  • Feb. 4, 5:00 p.m. - Butler High School
  • Feb. 5, 5:00 p.m. - Columbia High School

To see the slideshow presented at Thursday's special session, including all aspects of the proposal, click here.

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