Attendance zoning plans for the new Dr. Joaquin Garcia High now allow for more students to stay at their current schools

The new Dr. Joaquin Garcia High School in the western Lake Worth Beach area will open its doors to students for the 2023-24 school year.

The new Dr. Joaquin Garcia High School in the western Lake Worth Beach area will open its doors to students for the 2023-24 school year.

A months-long controversy over the attendance zoning for the new Dr. Joaquin Garcia High School, opening in the western Lake Worth Beach area for the 2023-24 school year, was put to rest Wednesday, March 30, when the Palm Beach County School Board approved an amended plan put forward by Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Mike Burke.

The original six proposed zoning plans presented to the board for consideration involved zoning changes for nine current high schools including having approximately 300 current Olympic Heights students who reside in the school’s northernmost boundary in the Canyons neighborhood communities being rezoned for Park Vista High School. The amended and now finalized plan could result in only approximately 120 current OH students being attending Park Vista in the upcoming school year. 

Many parents and students from all nine affected high schools expressed their displeasure with the proposed changes at zoning hearings and school board meetings over the past months, but it was primarily the OH and Wellington High School parents and students who were the most vocal in their opposition. 

OH sophomore Bayla Hirsch, who is slated for Park Vista next year, expressed her feelings on the matter at a Dec. 2, zoning hearing, saying, “Since entering Olympic Heights I have worked hard to build a foundation for my future. Olympic Heights has become my second home and family.” 

Hirsch went on to explain how she, like many students, struggled through the Covid pandemic, but a large part of her making it through was how the OH community was able to ground her and help plant her roots at the school as she made new friends and memories. 

“When voting on this proposal, please take the time and understand the impact of your decisions,” Hirsch asked of the zoning committee. “Consider the pressures and expectations that are placed on the students. Uprooting me from the world that I have known and foundation I have built to a new high school would require me to start completely over academically and socially, and would ultimately be detrimental to me. Please think with your hearts and not just statistics that look good on paper.” 

Other parents and students echoed Hirsch’s sentiment, pointing out that many of the students slated for Park Vista had become heavily involved in OH programs such as drama, band, or the various athletic programs, and that those programs have become vital to the students social, cultural, and academic growth.

OH sophomore Haylie Green, who is an OH cheerleader and a member of multiple OH clubs, told the board, “I really hope I am able to stay at Olympic Heights with my friends and team! I am hopeful the results go in our favor!”  

Several other students and parents spoke about how the change of schools will not only have a negative affect on students who are members of clubs and programs, but could negatively impact GPAs and class rankings, stating that students having to re-establish themselves in a new school can suffer severe negative impact on their growth as students.

In the end, Burke’s amended plan did not change the zoning boundaries, but did address the concerns of students such as Hirsch and Green. The original plan only allowed for the rising seniors and returning Choice Program (academy) students from rezoned areas to remain at their current high schools.

The newly approved amended plan now gives those rezoned rising juniors the option of staying at their current schools as well. Additionally, siblings of those rising juniors and seniors that are currently in eighth or ninth grade have the same option. 

Those rezoned students wishing to remain at their current school will be required to complete a reassignment form. Additionally, for those rezoned students who are allowed to stay at their current school, transportation to and from the school will be the responsibility of the parent(s).