The Fairfield Board of Education's recent approval of a redistricting plan for the town's three middle schools has sparked a press conference by the first selectman, an on-line petition to the school board asking for a public hearing on possible changes and, now, a rally.
The rally, organized by parents who want the school board to reconsider the plan, is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Sherman Green gazebo.
The controversial redistricting plan, approved on a 5-4 vote, would change the middle school assignments for students attending eight of the town's 11 elementary schools.
After First Selectman Kenneth Flatto's press conference this week, at which he urged the school board to consider revising the plan, many parents who showed up said that changing their child's middle school would translate to hour-long bus rides.
Board of Education Vice Chairman Pam Iacono said the board does not have a set limit on the length of bus rides, but the district's standard is to keep a student's ride under an hour "and we shoot for 45 minutes" maximum.
"Are there some bus routes that take an hour? Yes," Iacono said, but added that is not the norm, and usually is the routes to more rural areas of Fairfield, such as those near the town's border with Easton. "It's not a Riverfield School kid being bused to Ludlowe Middle School," she said.
Iacono said the way the new middle school feeder pattern was explained to the board, the changes would not increase the number of buses that have routes that last 45 minutes or an hour.
"To my understanding, and the way it was explained to me, it's pretty much a wash," she said. "Say we have 15 routes at 45 minutes now, we will have 15 routes at 45 minutes after the redistricting."
The on-line petition seeks to have the school board re-open its discussion of redistricting. Under state statutes, if the signatures of 1 percent of the town's registered voters are collected, the board will be required to hold a public hearing.
"That would just be a public hearing," Iacono said. "To my understanding, it doesn't require us to take any action, just to listen."
A "position paper" issued by parents opposed to the redistricting plan asks the school board to table any implementation of the plan "until they address the problems that are inherent in this plan and address the issues that were not resolved with this plan." That includes creating a new redistricting plan with a focus on neighborhood schools from elementary through high school; addressing overcrowding at the high school and elementary school levels; utilizing the middle schools evenly based on capacity; waiting for elementary school enrollment projections; a financial analysis of additional transportation costs; a traffic study; addressing "grandfathering" issues, and keeping parents informed of all Board of Education meetings and subcommittee meetings.
James J. Dipisa, a licensed psychologist with the New Learning Center on John Street, cautions parents that their negative feelings about any redistricting plan could be transferred to their children. "If the parents are upset about it, the children will pick up on it," said Dipisa, who for the past 10 years has worked with the Norwalk school system.
The most important concern for parents, he said, is to make sure their children are getting a good education in the classroom -- taking advantage of the PTA, meeting with teachers, making sure their children are doing their homework.
As taxpayers, Dipisa added, parents should have available to them all the information that went into the board's decision on redistricting. "If you truly are feeling like this board blew it," he said, "then in the next election, vote for the other party." That, he said, is separate from a parent's other job, which "is to focus on your kid getting a good education."