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Judge: Pasco County Schools violated Sunshine Law, 2017 boundaries for students voided

Parents call final judgment a ‘huge win'
Posted at 9:14 PM, Jan 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-11 17:07:27-05

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — On Wednesday, Pasco County circuit court judge, Judge Kimberly Sharpe Byrd, voided the district’s decision to move hundreds of children from Mitchell High to River Ridge High School, as part of a rezoning plan to ease overcrowding.

Three families filed suit against the district citing violations against Florida’s Sunshine Laws.

According to the final judgment, the district "failed to present sufficient evidence that all discussions and options were brought into the sunshine by the School Board.”

PREVIOUS STORY: Pasco County school board approves rezoning plans, thousands of students to transfer

Jim Stanley was one of the plaintiffs. He said this is a “huge win” for everyone in Pasco County.

“I think there were parents, who were doing what they could to protect their children,” Stanley said. “And, this became really a game of survivor. It was somebody had to go. And, so there were deals made among various members of the boundary committee as to who would stay and who would go. And, unfortunately our neighborhood got the short end of the stick.”

Stanley was able to receive a waiver for his daughter to continue to attend Seven Springs High as opposed to driving to River Ridge High nearly 6 miles farther, round trip.

“The process was unwise, unjust, and unlawful and we wanted it to be done correctly,” Stanley said. “They didn’t actually solve the problem and in fact in the process inconvenience and impacted a lot of families for really nothing. We are not the enemy. We are parents who care about our children’s education. We are looking for a solution that benefits everybody.”

PREVIOUS STORY: Pasco parents filing temporary injunction against school rezoning plan

Stanley said the district never took any of their recommendations into consideration.  

According to the judgment, “Members of the Boundary Committee violated Section 286.011 when its members held discussions on Boundary Committee business outside of a noticed, public hearing, and when it held breakout sessions of the middle school and high school groups. The School Board did not cure the violation of Section 286.011 and thus the West Side Rezoning is declared void.”

Linda Cobbe, Public Information Officer for Pasco schools, released this statement:

“we respect the process, but we’re disappointed in the ruling. We are discussing next steps among staff, and will be consulting with the School Board and the School Board attorney.”

Superintendent Kurt Browning said, “I want them to make the wise choice. I’m concerned about the disruption of education in our schools. ”

The school board will now decide whether to appeal the judge’s decision that voided the new boundaries. But in the meantime, the district is preparing to redo the rezoning process.

They’ll use a revised procedure that doesn’t involve a committee. Instead, the superintendent will decide after holding public workshops and hearings.

For now students can actually switch back to their old schools for the rest of this year.

“If I were a parent I would leave my child where they are for the rest of the school year. They have their friends, their teachers, they have their routine. Everything is set. But that’s a choice that they are going to make. That’s not a choice that I’m going to make for them,” said Browning.

It could end up being a case of 'be careful what you wish for' because the superintendent says the new rezoning could involve more neighborhoods and other schools.

“We are thrilled that it worked out the way it did. But we are still very willing to work with them and come up with a solution that works for everybody,” said Stanley.

Rezoned students have until January 19 to fill out a form and let the district know where they want to finish the school year. This also involves Seven Springs and River Ridge Middle Schools. But the changes won’t effect rezoning done in Wesley Chapel.