Years after the Riverhead School District moved elementary students living in the Calverton Hills community from Riley Avenue School to Phillips Avenue School, residents are still wondering why their kids have to travel to Riverside, which is farther away, when there’s a school closer to them in Calverton.
At Tuesday night’s meeting of the Riverhead Board of Education, several parents said they believe kids from Calverton Hills — many of whom come from minority backgrounds — should attend Riley Avenue School, which is closer to home.
District officials said Tuesday was the first time they had heard such complaints and some residents asked whether the redistricting could have been racial in nature.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it — the redistricting happened when more minority families started moving into Calverton Hills,” parent Melissa Britt of Calverton Hills said after the meeting. Ms. Britt said her daughter, who graduated last year, was one of the last Calverton Hills students to attend Riley Avenue.
According to a previous News-Review report, many streets on the Brookhaven side of Calverton hamlet — South River Road, Nugent Drive, Pinehurst Boulevard and others — were moved from Riley to Phillips beginning in the 2002-03 school year. But that article makes no mention of Calverton Hills roads like Wooded Way and Hill Crescent, and it was not immediately clear when those students were shifted from Riley to Phillips.
The district’s plan in 2002-03, according to the article, was to alleviate overcrowding following expansions of the Aquebogue, Riley Avenue and Phillips Avenue schools. At the time, the district moved many students living west of Roanoke Avenue — including areas like the Roanoke Avenue apartments — to Riley Avenue to minimize concern that previous boundaries sent most minority children to either Phillips or Roanoke Avenue Schools.
But parents on Tuesday night still wanted answers about Calverton Hills.
“It doesn’t make sense why the Roanoke kids go to Riley and the Calverton Hills kids go to Phillips,” said Lonaway Muldrow of Flanders, a member of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association. FRNCA members had discussed attending the school board meeting at their monthly meeting the previous night.
After the school board meeting, Ms. Muldrow said the redistricting issue was hotly debated within the community when she and other residents began researching an incident reported in a Feb. 27 News-Review cover story about two Riley Avenue students who brought a knife to school and plotted an attack on a fellow second-grader in November. The victim’s mother, who is black, said in the article she was concerned that race had played a role in permitting those students, who are white, to return to class just three months after the incident, despite a code of conduct that sometimes imposes a minimum one-year suspension for incidents involving a weapon.
Ms. Muldrow stressed to a reporter after the meeting that she’s not accusing the district of prejudice but she did say members of the Calverton Hills community have felt slighted on the whole.
“The perception in the community has been that the redistricting was prejudiced in nature,” she said. “Why should students have to travel 20 minutes to school when they can get to Riley in five minutes?”
As for the makeup of the district’s four elementary schools, Riley Avenue had the largest percentage of white students enrolled during the 2011-12 school year, according to the most recent demographic data provided by the state.
Nearly 76 percent of the school’s 622 students were white, according to the report. Phillips Avenue Elementary School, with 544 enrolled students, had the district’s highest percentage of minority elementary students, with 46 percent Hispanic and 29 percent black, the report states.
Superintendent Nancy Carney said at the meeting that this was the first time the community had brought the Calverton Hills redistricting concern to her attention and agreed to look into the matter, as well as the area’s redistricting history.
Ms. Carney said Phillips Avenue currently has about 580 students, while Riley Avenue has about 560. When residents approached her after the meeting, she said she believed sending Calverton Hills children to Riley Avenue “made sense.”
“If parents have concerns about how the school is districted currently, bring it to my attention,” Ms. Carney said. “If parents want us to look into this and they feel that their school was redistricted many years ago in an unfair fashion, you need to bring it to our attention.”
Additional reporting by Tim Gannon.