LEWISTON — Two Geiger parents are among what they say is a growing number of parents concerned or opposed about the Lewiston School Department's plans to send some elementary students to different schools.
Robert Strong said his two children, 4 and 7, don't want to leave their friends at Geiger. “One of my children takes a while to settle in,” Strong said.
Adilah Muhammad said her two children, 7 and 8, also don't want to leave their school.
Her oldest son overheard her talking about Lewiston's redistricting proposal for 234 students this fall.
“My son said, 'What do you mean I may have to go to a different school?' He has health concerns that has made his time here a little bit challenging. He's made significant gains,” Muhammad said, tearing up, worried her son will regress if sent to a different school.
Beginning Dec. 11, the Lewiston School Department Superintendent Bill Webster is hosting parent meetings at each elementary school to hear reaction to plans to redistrict 234 elementary students in the fall.
In the recommended plan, 44 students would be moved from Montello to Geiger; 87 students moved from Montello to McMahon; 92 students moved from Geiger to Montello; one student from Montello to Farwell; and 10 students moved from Farwell to Montello. No students would be moved to or from Longley Elementary.
Students in grades 4 to 6 and their siblings would be allowed to stay at their current schools, and transportation would be provided for two years, Webster said.
Redistricting is being proposed, Webster has said, to reduce class size in a city with growing student enrollment. There will be 10 classrooms at McMahon in the fall that need to be filled.
Also, the plan would begin to shape the schools' student enrollment to reflect the city's diverse populations, Webster has said.
Citywide, 67 percent of Lewiston elementary students are poorer, or qualify for free or reduced lunches, and 23 percent are learning to speak English, or are English language learning students. Some schools have disproportionate percentages of both sets, Webster has said.
The Lewiston School Committee is expected to make a decision in February.
Strong said Friday he's concerned a plan was developed without fair parent representation. “If parents don't feel they're a part of it, we're headed for a collision in this conversation.”
The redistribution committee had parent representatives from two schools, Longley and Martel, but those schools won't be impacted by the fall redistricting plan. Meanwhile there was “zero” parent representation from the schools that will be affected, Strong said.
He also objected to parents getting notice of parent meetings on Dec. 4, one week before the first is scheduled. That's not enough notice for busy working parents, Strong said.
Muhammad complained that the purpose of redistricting “hasn't been clear and straightforward.” She questions what redistricting and moving low-income and ELL students would accomplish.
“There haven't been conversations about what will be the educational plans to focus resources and programs,” Muhammad said.
Strong added that the student demographic numbers don't add up. Schools being redistricted already have demographics close to the city averages, Strong said. The school that doesn't, Longley, would not be redistricted in the fall. That doesn't make sense, Strong said.
“Any conversation about equity and distribution can't take place without Longley. I've been hearing from a lot of parents and educators who find it very puzzling.”
Jodi Wolverton, president of McMahon Elementary Parent/Teachers Organization, said McMahon parents “feel blind-sided” because the redistricting committee didn't include parents from McMahon or Geiger.
The plan to balance the social-economic mix appears to be “a social experiment disguised as a redistricting,” Wolverton said. McMahon parents understand the school is growing and changing, but “deserve to be part of the process,” she said.