Parents and board members expressed frustration during elementary enrollment redistricting discussions at the Cape school board meeting Nov. 16, with one mother attributing the need to move students due to overcrowding caused by housing developments approved by Sussex County Council.
During public comment, parent Araina Sala said the district had to change middle school enrollment zones just a couple months ago. Student numbers at the high school are approaching that of a small college, she said, and there must be something that can be done to make it easier on everyone.
She said the building in Sussex County is excessive, over the top and just crazy.
“Is there a way we can come together and go to county council and say, ‘look what you’re doing to our kids and our families?’” she said. “And look what you’re doing to our board – they don’t want to do this any more than we do.”
Board President Alison Myers said everything that can be done is being done. The best solution would be to build a new elementary school in the growth area near Love Creek, she said, but even if the state approved a new school today, it would be at least three years until the doors could open.
Sala replied in the affirmative when Superintendent Bob Fulton asked if she was saying that the county should limit the amount of developments approved. Residents talk constantly about the traffic, Sala said.
“But schools can’t handle this. We can’t even catch up. We could build a fifth wing onto Cape, but look what’s going on across the street from the library right now,” she said, referring to developments under construction on Freeman Highway, which are a mix of projects approved by the City of Lewes and Sussex County.
“I think that all these things have been said to the county council,” Myers said. “And unfortunately, it’s fallen mostly on deaf ears.”
At this point, board member Jessica Tyndall read aloud from her computer the dates of upcoming county council and county planning & zoning commission meetings.
“It’s worth a shot,” Tyndall said, noting meetings are held at 2 The Circle in Georgetown. The meeting schedule is available at sussexcountyde.gov.
In September, Fulton first addressed the need to realign attendance zones to alleviate overcrowding at Love Creek Elementary. Since then, he said he has met with parent groups twice to discuss potential changes and make adjustments, and said he welcomes additional parent suggestions on how to move students.
In just 2020, the district had to adjust attendance zones because of crowding at Love Creek. Now, about 150 students need to be moved from the school, he said.
“We’re almost where we were before we made changes last time,” he said.
Love Creek has classes with too many students, he said. Some teachers have no classrooms and have to move around with carts, he said, and a new related arts class had to be created because of too many students in each grade level.
“That’s not fair to the students here or the staff here compared to the other elementary schools,” he said.
To determine the new zones, Fulton said he considered the number of students in each school and their socioeconomic status, projected growth for the enrollment area, distance to school, and special programs such as Spanish immersion and Cape Accelerated Program. The goal is not to split developments, he said.
The district is still investigating residency issues, he said. In October, Fulton announced the launch of a tip line at tinyurl.com/yv7v3n8v where anyone with concerns about students attending Cape schools who are not residing in the district can anonymously report.
“We know not every student that attends school here or other schools in our district resides in the district,” Fulton said. “Sometimes people do live here, and they move away and forget to tell us they moved, or they tell us they live here and they don’t.”
It’s not fair that people who don’t live in the attendance zone are making the school crowded, he said.
At Love Creek, he said, 38 choice students are connected to staff members and 25 are not. To support staff members, he said, their children are permitted to choice into the district or a school that works for them.
“However, there are 25 students at Love Creek that are not connected to a staff member, so that’s something else we’re going to be addressing,” he said. “For next school year, we will be communicating with these families to let them know their options for school choice. And one of those options will not be to remain at Love Creek.”
In reworking attendance zones, Fulton said he has to consider where students will attend middle school in order to limit the number of fifth-graders who are split up as they move on. The goal is for all students attending H.O. Brittingham Elementary to feed into Mariner Middle, and for students attending Love Creek to feed into Beacon Middle, he said.
The possible solution, he said, is to move students who live in the Reserves at Lewes Landing, Coastal Club and the Jimtown area who currently attend Love Creek to Lewes Elementary.
Additionally, he said, students who live in The Retreat at Love Creek, Beachwoods and Welches Pond who currently attend Love Creek would move to Rehoboth Elementary.
In this scenario, Fulton said, the number of students who would be moved from Love Creek combined with the 25 choice students who are not connected with a staff member is 83. Fulton said he would like to raise the number to at least 100 to prevent having to do this again in a few years.
The district will continue to work on residency investigations, he said, noting he may send letters to all families to request proof of residency.
Board member Julie Derrick said the district does not take lightly the need to move students, stressing the board is reading all parent emails on the issue. Tyndall said the consistency in programs at all elementary schools will ensure a smooth transition for kids.
Large class sizes are negatively affecting students and staff, Myers said.
“Class size matters a whole lot, particularly in the younger grades,” she said.
If approved, the new zones would go into effect with the 2024-25 school year.
Fulton said the proposed new attendance zones will be posted at capehenlopenschools.com one week before the next board meeting, set for Thursday, Dec. 14, when the board may take action.