Pasco judge rules against controversial school rezoning plan

By Sarah Blazonis, Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, January 11, 2018, 5:22 PM EST

A Pasco County circuit judge has overruled a school board rezoning move that would ship hundreds of students to different schools. 

  • Pasco judge rules against controversial school rezoning plan
  • Circuit judge said some rezoning business done in private violated Sunshine Law
  • School Board discussing next steps
  • READ the judge's ruling (.pdf)

Last fall, the Pasco County School Board voted on rezoning that would ship students from Mitchell High to River Ridge High. The move was seen as a way to ease overcrowding in the west side of the county. 

But Judge Kimberly Sharpe Byrd has ruled against the move, saying some members of an advisory committee conducted business in private, a move that violated the state's Sunshine Law. 

“To have the judge agree with literally every point we made in court just feels tremendous,” said Jim Stanley, parent of Pasco Schools students and a plaintiff in a suit against the school board.

About 150 students were rezoned between the high schools, and also between Seven Springs Middle School and River Ridge Middle School. Stanley's daughter was slated to be among them, but he says she was one of the students who applied for and received school choice, and was able to stay at Mitchell.

"We did all the right things," Stanley explained. "We sent emails, we petitioned, we came up with alternative plans. They just weren't interested in working with us."

Among the judge's findings: members of the boundary committee had conversations on Facebook and via e-mail about rezoning issues that should've been public, a violation of the law. Another violation: breakout sessions during public meetings that couldn't be heard by people who attended.

"Our primary focus is minimizing disruption to students," said Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning.

"We respect the process, but we’re disappointed in the ruling," said School Board member Linda Cobbe. "We are discussing next steps among staff, and will be consulting with the School Board and the School Board attorney."  

The move was much debated last fall between the school board and parents and teachers.

School board officials' stance was that the boundary change would reduce student counts at those schools by a few hundred and provide a better, less crowded educational experience for all students. 

Parents countered that the plan was not only bad for students but made no sense considering the transportation needs of students to and from schools. 

Browning said rezoned students will now have the option to stay at their current school for the rest of the year or return to the campus they were moved from. Families will have a week to fill out a form on the district's website if students do want to make a switch.

The superintendent said rezoning will have to be done again under the new process put into place before this lawsuit was filed. He said the new process may be more comprehensive and include more neighborhoods.

For now, though, it's unclear where rezoned students will attend school next year.

"We haven't gotten there," Browning said. "Depending on what the school board and our attorneys decide to do -- whether we appeal, whether we ask for a re-hearing -- we don't know yet."

Browning says the new process will involve input from the planning department and staff, as well as public workshops and meetings where people can weigh in on any new changes.