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Three Plans For Hills Redistricting 

Greg Casamento, a father of a student at Forest Park, examines a map of “Scenario Two,” showing potential redistricting patterns for students in grades 1-5 next year when two Half Hollow Hills schools will close.

Tensions were palpable at the Half Hollow Hills Board of Education work session and meeting Monday night when district administrators presented three potential redistricting scenarios for elementary school feeding patterns next year, when Chestnut Hill and Forest Park Elementary schools will close due to declining enrollment.

District administrators estimate a decision will be made by Dec. 2, when the board of education will hold a special meeting to discuss the three redistricting scenarios for students in grades 1-5.

All three scenarios maintained the number of students who would attend Otsego and Vanderbilt Elementary but varied significantly by the number of students who would attend Paumonak and Signal Hill Elementary Schools, with distribution varying by over 100 students in several of the scenarios.

The maps were drawn by Flanders, NJ-based Applied Data Services, a transportation consulting company hired earlier this year by the district.

While district personnel did not know which map would be decided on Monday night, they were prepared to address concerns of a handful of parents over the air quality at Vanderbilt Elementary.

The district asked Dr. Karl Friedman, a physician hired by the district on an as-needed basis, to study medical data in children regarding environmental exposure to pollutants.

Friedman was asked by the district to attend the meeting after administrators and board members were slammed by parents—mostly of students currently attending Forest Park—alarmed by the potential threat of their child being exposed to pollutants at Vanderbilt, located on Route 231/Deer Park Avenue.

According to Friedman, who examined the number of nurse visits from January to November 2013, the number of visits for Vanderbilt and Forest Park students varied by 25 children. Of total nurse visits related to respiratory or asthma problems, there were 225 incidents at Vanderbilt and 260 at Forest Park.

Juliette Trope, a parent of two children at Forest Park and a physician in a neonatal intensive care unit, said children ages 3-10 are in the critical stages of lung development and that exposure to pollutants can damage normal development.

Trope, who researched traffic patterns along Route 231, found that Deer Park Avenue has 31,323 cars utilizing the road per day, 10,000 more than the 20,000 “danger zone,” which makes children “eight times more likely to develop leukemia.”

“I’m not making this up; it’s all from medical literature. By New York State’s standards, Vanderbilt is considered safe, but it is not safer than the other school. When you have the choice it just makes sense to choose the safer school,” Trope said.

Parents with students in the five remaining schools—Otsego, Paumonak, Signal Hill, Sunquam and Vanderbilt Elementary—grappled with the fact that the redistricting will also affect students currently attending one of the five schools, which many will be forced to move from next year.

Over 200 parents stressed the importance of keeping tight-knit communities together, the impact redistricting will have on fourth-graders who will not graduate from their current school next year, and frustrations over transparency.

In an effort to quell concerns over class sizes and transportation, trustees and administrators assured parents that class sizes averaging 20-24 students will be maintained at all five schools and that the duration of bus commutes will remain “very similar” for all scenarios.

Board members offered a varied degree of input on the different maps, with some gravitating toward the map that would maintain the same educational experience for students. Others stressed the need to keep communities together while others discussed the importance of maximizing building efficiency.

“As ugly as these lines look they are based on logical…patterns and geographical boundaries. We aren’t splitting up a box,” school board President James Ptucha said.

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