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Families say now is not the time to add more stress with talk of children attending different schools.

COURTESY PHOTO: PORTLAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS - Kellogg Middle School is nearing completion and will be open in the fall.

Parents expressed anxiety over Portland Public Schools' tentative proposal to change attendance patterns at schools in the southeast part of the district, and in a meeting Thursday night, many said they were blindsided by the proposals.

One parent said she can see her child's current elementary school from her house, and under the proposed plan they would attend a school farther away.

"It's outrageous, and frankly, I'm very upset," she said, "it does not make any sense to me."

More than 800 people were online for a virtual open house Nov. 19.

After some background information was provided, the attendees broke into multiple discussion "rooms" to ask questions and voice what turned out to be many concerns.

Some parents said they had understood the goal of the Southeast rebalancing process was to "skim" students from other middle schools to fill the newly rebuilt Kellogg Middle School, 3330 S.E. 69th Ave., which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2021.

The district also needs to form new borders for Harrison Park Middle School, 2225 S.E. 87th Ave., which is expected be converted from a K-8 school to a middle school in 2022.

But the tentative plan proposed for discussion revealed much more sweeping changes.

For example, among the many changes in the preliminary plan, Mt. Tabor Middle School students would go to Madison High School instead of Franklin High School.

Creative Science School would lose its building, and there is no proposed new home for the 460 students attending that school.

Dani Ledesma, a PPS senior advisor on racial equity and social justice, stressed that the proposal under discussion was a starting point and that "we expect there will be major changes" before the school board votes on a plan in January.

The district formed a committee of more than 60 people — including parents and staff — to guide the process, and the group has had multiple meetings. There have been focus groups and the results of a phone survey filled 205 pages.

However, many parents said the district did not communicate clearly to parents about the many changes being considered for the southeast schools.

One mom of a Mt. Tabor student said that "the headline was always about Kellogg," adding that the process was "completely the opposite of transparent."

Peter, a parent of a Glencoe Elementary School student, wrote in the chat thread, "I heard about this via a Facebook parent group. I'm pretty sure we shouldn't be getting news about our children's education from Facebook."

Another parent, Sean Egusa, said "PPS says they want to listen, but it does not seem like they are hearing."

The current discussion surrounding Kellogg Middle School and attendance boundaries in the southeast is part of a multi-year process to balance attendance at all the schools in the state's largest district.

But redrawing school borders and changing feeder patterns is one of the most difficult things for districts to accomplish and it stirs up a great deal of emotion for families.

The process is very complex with a change in one place creating a cascade of changes in others. Bus schedules can get messed up. Demographic balances can become skewed.

And in PPS, many schools have special programs, such as dual language immersion, and locating those complicates the process even more.

When school attendance boundaries are redrawn, school and neighborhood friends can be separated. Families who bought homes counting on going to a specific school might find their kids attending a totally different school. Some students even end up passing by a neighborhood school to attend a school farther away from their home, as the one mom said.

Egusa and other parents also said that families are already under stress from the pandemic and a faltering economy and suggested this isn't a good time to add another anxiety-inducing change in students' and families' lives.

One chat entry in Thursday's meeting said, "The last things our kids need right now, in the midst of this pandemic, is to be torn away from their friends and made to go to a completely new school in a different neighborhood."

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