Overcrowding at Winding Waters forces district to move 30 students

WEEKI WACHEE — More than 30 students who were to attend Winding Waters K-8 were without a school this week because fire codes would not allow overcrowding.

To comply with fire codes, the school can hold up to 1,400 students but enrollment recently exceeded that mark, School Board Attorney Dennis Alfonso said during a board meeting this week.
Students prepare to leave for the day at Winding Waters K-8. GEOFF FOX/STAFF

“It’s an emergency situation,” Alfonso said. “We can’t continue to accept students at that school, and students who continue to try to enroll at this school have nowhere to go.”

Alfonso said that the board could suspend provisions related to attendance zones, but “only as it pertains to students trying to enroll at Winding Waters.” That means some students who are zoned for Winding Waters would be temporarily allowed to attend another school.

Such a measure would last up to 90 days as the district works out a permanent solution.

Alan Cox, schools assistant superintendent for academic services, said one option could be to place more than 30 students who wanted to enroll at Winding Waters at West Hernando Middle School and Pine Grove Elementary School.

“There are kids in a classroom on a stage, in a hall, in the teacher’s break room,” Cox said, referring to measures Winding Waters Principal Dave Dannemiller has implemented to combat overcrowding.

“We cannot violate fire codes,” Cox said. “Our Student Advisory Council has been very worried.”

There is overcrowding because when the school opened three years ago, an “excessive” number of students were enrolled into fifth grade, Schools Superintendent Lori Romano said.

Those students are now eighth-graders at the school, which saw an influx of more than 80 students than expected this year.

School Board Member Cynthia Moore asked Romano where the 32 students who may be placed at West Hernando Middle and Pine Grove Elementary were currently being schooled.

“We are trying to advise them on what to do,” Romano said. “That’s why we need to pass this.”

School Board Member Matt Foreman made a motion to temporarily modify attendance zones at Winding Waters and give Romano authority to take whatever action is necessary to mitigate the issue. The motion passed unanimously.

Romano is to have a recommendation before the board within 30 days. She said a rezoning committee has been established to work on the problem.


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