AMHERST - A crowd of more than 130 offered criticisms of the School Committee's plan for redistricting elementary schools at a public forum on Wednesday.
Many people stood in the auditorium at Crocker Farm School, as seats were hard to find in the packed room. Parents and teachers lined up for their chance to comment on the plan to redraw the school boundaries to improve economic equality at the three remaining Amherst elementary schools.
The forum was the second of two, the first being held at Mark's Meadow School on Oct. 8. The School Committee will vote on the plan Oct. 27.
Renata Shepard, a parent of two at Crocker Farm, disagreed that sending students from an area on East Hadley Road, where she lives, to a new school, would bring about equality. "I've always heard that fairness is not everyone being equal, but everyone having what they need," Shepard said. "If you're moving these kids from a little area because them getting reduced lunch means they have a less rich environment, why not create that rich environment here with neighborhood schools?"
Jose Gerena of Mill Valley Estates on East Hadley Road said his children should not have to attend Fort River, instead of Crocker Farm, which they have been attending, simply because they live in a certain area of town. "My kids are getting pulled out of where their friends are and where they've been going to school for six years," Gerena said. "My kids are not on the free or reduced lunch program. I want to know why they have to be sacrificed for the school."
Luis Valdiviezo of North Pleasant Street said a student's economic means is not the only indicator of his or her performance in school. "Research shows that kids coming from low-income families is the factor that decides academic success, but we have to consider the quality of teaching and of the families," Valdiviezo said.
Jim Oldham, the parent of a Wildwood student, requested that the committee hold off on making a decision until all alternatives have been investigated. "The process failed to allow parents or others to influence the plan. There has been no attempt to weigh it in public against other equally valid goals for our schools or discuss what we are willing to sacrifice in pursuit of that goal," Oldham said.
Lucia Spiro, an English language education teacher at Crocker Farm, said the program the school has developed to educate bilingual students is too valuable to be broken up by the redistricting. "Crocker Farm has worked hard to develop bilingual education," Spiro said. "The support we offer could not be duplicated in each of the district buildings."
Mitch Pine of Valley View Circle is a parent of a Fort River student who would have to attend Crocker Farm according to the School Committee's map. "I know the town only has to provide education and not friendships, but I think we all instinctively know that friends and relationships affect the quality of education," Pine said.
Maya Rege-Colt of Valley View Road said the committee should be sensitive to the amount of damage the transition could cause students, especially fifth-graders like her daughter, who will have to relocate twice in two years.
"Children are resilient, but this is a big change," Rege-Colt said. "It will be stressful and unsettling for the most adjusted fifth-grader. Students who have learning disabilities, chaotic home lives or histories of trauma or loss will suffer emotionally, socially and academically."
Rege-Colt begged the School Committee to postpone the redistricting. "Please, please, please consider slowing this process down so that this one year of students doesn't have to bear all the brunt," Rege-Colt said.