Parents packed Maynard H. Jackson High School’s auditorium on March 8 to question Atlanta Public Schools’ proposed rezoning plan that would impact students living in neighborhoods including Peoplestown, Chosewood Park, Summerhill and Custer/McDonough/Guice. (Dyana Bagby)

Atlanta Public Schools is facing harsh criticism from some parents who say its proposed rezoning plans to deal with overcrowding at Midtown and Maynard H. Jackson high schools further segregates Black and Hispanic students while also breaking up several southeast Atlanta neighborhoods.

The comments were made last week at in-person and virtual community meetings APS administrators held to get feedback on proposed rezoning scenarios for the Midtown cluster and Jackson cluster that would move hundreds of students to different schools.

A meeting on the proposed rezoning for the Douglass cluster to deal with overcrowding at Woodson Park Academy is Wednesday, March 15.

APS officials are also recommending scenarios with no rezoning. Addressing overcrowding through no rezoning would include an intense residency review to determine if students are attending the school they are assigned to by attendance zone. Other ideas could include hiring more staff and redesigning space at the schools.

Administrators plan to have a recommendation for the Atlanta Board of Education by next month. A rezoning recommendation would require two board votes, with the first planned for the May 1 meeting and final vote at the June 5 meeting.

In January, the school board adopted criteria when making rezoning and redistricting decisions:

  • Utilization (the ratio of available core classroom capacity to projected enrollment)
  • Proximity (distance to elementary school, followed by middle school and high school, while maximizing the number of students assigned to a school who are within the walk zone)
  • Traffic and safety patterns within a geographic school zone
  • Past rezoning decisions impacting a school or community
  • Neighborhood cohesion, as identified by the City of Atlanta
  • Equity impacts, including, but not limited to, access to instructional programs

Jackson High School is projected to be at 100% utilization with 1,500 students and Midtown High School will be at 113% utilization with more than 1,700 students by 2024-25, according to APS data. The proposed rezoning would keep the schools at 90% utilization.

APS is recommending rezoning roughly 200 students in the Jackson cluster living in the Peoplestown, Chosewood Park, Summerhill, Boulevard Heights, Woodland Hills and Custer/McDonough/Guice neighborhoods to the Carver cluster.

The Midtown cluster proposal would rezone 219 high school students living in the Centennial Academy attendance zone to the Washington cluster. Neighborhoods impacted include Atlantic Station, Georgia Tech, Home Park, Knight Park/Howell Station, Marietta Street Artery, Castleberry Hill, Downtown, Historic Westin Heights/Bankhead and English Avenue.

Midtown/Washington cluster scenario

Several parents in a March 9 virtual meeting raised questions about how equity was determined in APS’ proposal to move the 219 students living in the Centennial Academy zone to the Washington cluster. They said Booker T. Washington High School does not provide the same quality of education as Midtown High School.

“We want everybody to remember these are not abstract children,” said parent Johari Michael during open discussion.

“These are real families and communities just trying to have the best educational opportunities for their students,” Michael said. “As you see in the division, it is predominantly poor students and Black students and poor Black students that would be predominantly affected by redistricting.”

Dan Drake, senior executive director of Facility Services for APS, said race cannot be used as a reason for rezoning students although race and income data is included in its analysis. He also noted that the criteria “most likely will conflict or compete with each other.”

“One of the things that we must do and we ask the public to help us do, is how do we balance these considerations of one criteria over another?” Drake asked.

Another parent asked why were other schools such as Mary Lin Elementary, a majority-white school, were not included in the rezoning. The Mary Lin PTO sent a letter to APS in February saying they wanted to remain in the Midtown cluster.

“The problem with Mary Lin is it would have such an inordinate impact on the Jackson cluster because we would then have to rezone multiple students from Jackson all the way to Carver,” Drake said. “We didn’t think that was feasible.”

Jackson/Carver rezoning scenario

The Jackson to Carver cluster rezoning is complex.

This plan includes moving 75 Jackson High School students to Carver High School and Carver Early College High School and would relocate 26 students from Martin Luther King Middle School to Luther J. Price Middle School. APS plans to reduce Jackson High School by another 75 students through a residency review or “innovative measures” at the high school, which are unclear.

The rezoning proposal also calls for moving 44 students from Benteen Elementary School and 24 students from Barack and Michelle Obama Academy (BaMO) to Slater Elementary. More than 100 students would be rezoned from Parkside Elementary to Benteen and BaMO.

Parent Alfred “Shivy” Brooks, who lives in the Custer/McDonough/Guice neighborhood near the federal penitentiary, questioned the criteria APS says it would follow as part of redistricting at an in-person March 8 meeting at Maynard Jackson High School. He said the rezoning options would segregate southeast Atlanta along gentrified neighborhood lines.

He was also angry that APS refers to his neighborhood as “State Facility” on its maps.

Alfred “Shivy” Brooks shouted at Atlanta Public Schools administrators at a March 8 meeting on a proposed rezoning of the Jackson Cluster to the Carver cluster for naming his neighborhood, Custer/McDonough/Guice, as “State Facility” on its maps. (Dyana Bagby)

“How could you, in good faith, say that we’re making decisions to keep neighborhoods cohesive when you don’t even recognize us?” he said.

“Many of us have been living in this neighborhood for decades. Our area has been treated as a buffer zone and an opportunity to scale off families for whatever capacity needs at the time,” he said. “We will not stand for that.”

Aiyanna Cottman, president of the Barack and Michelle Obama Academy PTA, said the school wants to remain a part of the Peoplestown neighborhood. It also does not want some of its students to be sent to the Carver cluster because it is made up of only Purpose Built schools.

“APS’ failure to plan for children to truly thrive in an equitably resourced and supported Carver Cluster School Community does not constitute our children’s emergency,” Cottman read from a resolution the PTA sent to school officials. “We may consider further discussion when APS invests in the Carver Cluster children AND keeps the Peoplestown community together.”

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.