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Pasco officials push back against parents who say they were harmed by school rezonings

Pasco officials push back against parents who say they were harmed by school rezonings

  • LAND O’LAKES — Lawyers for the Pasco County school system on Monday aggressively questioned parents who are challenging the district’s recent decision to redraw school attendance zones, part of a daylong hearing that focused on how severely families had been affected.
  • District lawyers countered that the board’s statutory powers allow it to draw its maps without adhering to the rule-making requirements.
  • Division of Administrative Hearings judge D.R. Alexander heard nearly seven hours of testimony at the school district’s headquarters in Land O’Lakes.
  • Questioned by Stines, the parents indicated that they did not receive formal notification from the district about the plans to redraw attendance maps.
  • DiCampli also asked the parents several questions about their knowledge of the rezoning process.


LAND O’LAKES — Lawyers for the Pasco County school system on Monday aggressively questioned parents who are challenging the district’s recent decision to redraw school attendance zones, part of

@TBOcom: Pasco officials push back against parents who say they were harmed by school rezonings

LAND O’LAKES — Lawyers for the Pasco County school system on Monday aggressively questioned parents who are challenging the district’s recent decision to redraw school attendance zones, part of a daylong hearing that focused on how severely families had been affected.

The families have accused the board of not following state laws governing rule-making, which they say should come into play when revising school zones. Those procedures include providing notification of events, which parents say didn’t happen.

“Their own policy says they were making a rule,” said Robert Stines, lawyer for the parents. “If you are making a rule, you have to comply” with the law.

District lawyers countered that the board’s statutory powers allow it to draw its maps without adhering to the rule-making requirements. They further challenged whether the parents have standing to bring the complaint.

While they may have been “harmed,” the lawyers said, they were not legally affected in the sense that all their children will still receive a free public education. These questions could have statewide implications as other districts adjust their zones to cope with growth. In Pasco alone, the rezoning affects thousands of students.

Division of Administrative Hearings judge D.R. Alexander heard nearly seven hours of testimony at the school district’s headquarters in Land O’Lakes.

Before witnesses began, Alexander pondered the district’s perspective.

If parents and students are not substantially affected, Alexander said, “What remedy do they have?”

School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso suggested they could take their case to circuit court, if they believe the board exceeded its authority. Alexander noted that such a move could take longer than the current review.

He said he would take up the issues in his final order, which he hinted could come in about 30 days. He then opened the hearing for testimony.

Questioned by Stines, the parents indicated that they did not receive formal notification from the district about the plans to redraw attendance maps.

Plaintiff James Stanley said he heard initial information from “folks in the neighborhood.”

“I don’t recall ever seeing anything in the mail,” Stanley said.

Several others, all of whom live in the Longleaf subdivision, echoed Stanley’s statement, and added that they had many questions they did not get answered.

Stines asked each parent to explain how they were harmed by the rezoning.

Parents spoke about their children’s emotional distress at losing programs, moving away from friends and disrupting their lives. They also spoke of concerns over longer rides to school and potential loss of property values.

Michelle McPheron said her daughter cries whenever the subject comes up, and that she would rather be home-schooled than move to River Ridge High.

“Is there any chance your daughter would be happy at River Ridge?” asked School Board attorney Carl DiCampli.

“No,” McPheron answered.

DiCampli also asked the parents several questions about their knowledge of the rezoning process. Several acknowledged that they knew of district meetings — at least one requested to be on the superintendent’s advisory committee — and most communicated with the district by speaking at meetings or emailing thoughts and documents.

If they said they sent information, DiCampli suggested that indicated having opportunity to participate. If they said they didn’t go to sessions, he put forth that they chose not to participate.

Some bristled at the notion.

“There is a limit to what I as an ordinary citizen can do when I have a full-time job,” Stanley said.

After the parents presented their side, the district began. First, lawyer Dennis Alfonso stated he did not believe the plaintiffs made their case.

The district also introduced spokeswoman Linda Cobbe, who reviewed a list of ways her office had publicized the rezoning process. That effort included posting information on the district website and on social media, as well as sending home phone messages and distributing letters.

With questions, Stines pointed out that such efforts do not constitute formal notification, which is central to his case.

“I’ve seen a bunch of stuff on the website, Facebook, Twitter,” Stines said to Cobbe. “Is there any requirement that parents have the Internet in Pasco?”

“In the law, no,” she answered.

The hearing will resume today at 9:30 a.m. A related hearing on east side rezoning is scheduled to take place March 15-16.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or jsolochek@tampabay.com. Follow @jeffsolochek.

Pasco officials push back against parents who say they were harmed by school rezonings

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