Tensions are high between local parents and the St. Johns County School District over its proposed school zoning maps for the 2024-2025 school year.
This week, the district released its first draft of new maps in the areas of two new K-8 schools set to open next fall.
One of the schools, currently called “K-8 School NN,” is being built in the Shearwater development in the northwestern part of the county. The district said it’ll have a 1,500-student capacity but is projected to rezone up to 1,270 local students from other area schools.
The other, “K-8 School OO,” is being built in the Beacon Lakes portion of north central St. Johns County. It’ll also have a 1,500-student capacity but is projected to rezone 1,200 local students.
In its meetings with parents this week, the district said it has received an overwhelming number of concerns from parents, whose students could be affected by the possible changes. One of them is Scott Rudowitz’s 9-year-old son, who goes to Freedom Crossing Academy.
“I’m frustrated,” Rudowitz said. “This is not what was shared with me.”
Rudowitz and his family moved to the Rivertown neighborhood, most of which is zoned for FCA, a little more than a year ago. His son has only just finished his first year at the school, and Rudowitz doesn’t want this one to be the last.
“The jeopardy of taking that away … that’s not okay for a 9-year-old,” Rudowitz said.
Another parent living in Rivertown, who wanted to remain anonymous, has three kids going to the same school. He is worried about the possibility of the proposed changes splitting up the neighborhood.
“To have to switch schools completely, learning new routines, all while knowing you’ll have to do it again the following year, it’s scary,” he told Action News Jax’s Finn Carlin.
The county’s proposed map that would rezone Rivertown students already going to FCA is one of three potential plans to put students at School NN. Plan C, which Rudowitz and other Rivertown parents are taking issue with, would rezone 368 FCA students to NN.
There are two other proposals for School OO. The five initial rezoning plans affect seven of the county’s schools, all of which the county said are well over capacity.
These are the schools affected by the possible zoning changes:
Freedom Crossing Academy
Timberlin Creek Elementary
Hickory Creek Elementary
Switzerland Point Middle
Liberty Pines Academy
Ocean Palms Elementary
Alice B. Landrum Middle
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The school district also proposed sending close to 400 students from Pacetti Bay Middle School to Sebastian Middle School.
St. Johns County superintendent Tim Forson said the zoning changes are part of an effort to balance the county’s growth.
“If you’re a family moving into the county, there’s a great chance your child will be rezoned between kindergarten and 12th grade,” Forson said. “We are opening schools at that fast of a rate.”
As the county keeps growing, the school district expects more students to fill up its schools. Recent U.S. census data shows that the county has already seen more than 33,000 people move into its neighborhoods within the last five years, making it one of the fastest-growing counties in Florida.
To manage the growth, Superintendent Forson said more schools will have to be built.
“As each school comes online, it does mean students will be zoned to new schools,” Forson said.
But with a third school, “K-8 School PP,” already on the way near Rivertown, projected to open at the start of the 2025-2026 school year, parents worry about how the possible multiple rezonings could affect their kids.
“You can’t expect to move kids around and expect they’ll have a great academic experience,” Rudowitz said. “That’s just not okay.”
The school district said it plans to keep working on the maps over the next few months. There will be another discussion over the proposed maps in its meeting on Oct. 10. The district plans to approve a final set of new maps on Nov. 14.