February 15th, 2012
07:05 AM ET

My View: School redistricting plans bring out deep emotions

Courtesy Picture This! Photography By Regina Brewer, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note:  Atlanta Public Schools (APS) is undergoing a system-wide redistricting, its first since 2003.  Though this is a local story, it’s a familiar one among  communities and school districts throughout the United States.  At issue is how to balance the needs  of the community and its students, parents and teachers with the realities of overcrowded and undercrowded schools.  Regina Brewer, her husband and three children live in the Inman Park community of Atlanta, where she serves as the president of the neighborhood association.  Her children attend Mary Lin Elementary.

“Mommy, I don’t care where I go to school.  Just stay home.” This is what my 9-year-old daughter said to me as I was leaving to go to yet another meeting dealing with the current Atlanta Public School rezoning initiative.  What do I say to this?  How do I explain why so many parents are angry, why yards signs declaring “Keep our Schools Together” have popped up like mushrooms all over nearby neighborhoods, and why their friends are now fleeing the school system for nearby private schools to avoid the uncertainty?  My children are less concerned about where they will go to school than they are with my constant absences.  They are resentful of the numerous calls and bewildered at the number of meetings that are held in my kitchen, which one friend has christened “The War Room.”  Many of my friends’ children are scared because they have read the yard signs and their parents are so frantic.  I’m just tired.  Tired of the endless meetings, tired of the conspiracy theories (real and imagined), and so tired of trying to mathematically figure out how many children can fit in the school and who stays and who has to go.  It truly feels like a lose/lose situation.

We love our neighborhood schools.  We have spent so many hours in them, donating time and money to make our schools a wonderful learning environment for our children.  They represent our neighborhoods and connect us and our communities in meaningful ways.  To be told that we may not be able to attend this school that we love is somewhat like being evicted from your house.  But we love that house, what do you mean we can’t live there?  Some parents argue that it’s about high-performing versus low-performing schools.  I just read the test scores of all the APS schools in the latest Education Section of the Atlanta Business Chronicle.  Sure, there were many high-scoring schools, but the scores of “low-performing schools” were not dreadful.  Most of the elementary schools had test scores in the high 80s to high 90s.  Some parents argue that it is about the building or its location.  Many APS schools were designed during the modern movement, when design overrode the need for light and air.  We can’t imagine our children being able to learn in this kind of environment or being safe in a school on a busy road or near a crime-ridden gas station.  Some parents argue that the school population is filled with children from tough (read “poor”) neighborhoods and that they will not be among their peers.

The reality is that we just want our children to be happy, make friends and be joyful in their learning.  No one can guarantee this will be true if our children have to go to a new school.  The uncertainty is eroding school morale, destroying neighborhood alliances and bringing out the worst in people.  Of the numerous school-related blogs, one has been filled with horrendous vitriol that made us ashamed and sad the world is seeing our communities at their absolute worst.  This rezoning has begun to redefine us, and not necessarily for the better.

There are hints of the light at the end of the tunnel.  When APS delivered the two new options, the picture became much clearer.  Many people have finally understood that status quo is not an option.  I’m now seeing that same blog filled with creative solutions, a willingness to collaborate, and those who continue to spew their venom are chastised by parents who want to work this out.  Will it be enough?  Is there enough time to come up with solutions and will APS even consider them?  I have to admit, that is what really terrifies me.

What if we come up with a solution in which everyone (or at least most everyone) wins and APS will not or cannot support it because of bureaucratic red tape or, more realistically, insufficient funding.  How do parents accept that?  And what if the worst possible scenario occurs for each school community?  What will parents do?  Will they abandon APS for private schools or transfer to charter schools in nearby communities?  Will those who make the transition to their new school embrace it or tolerate it?

The final decision will be made in April and then finally we’ll have resolution for better or for worse.  I hope that our communities, our schools, and APS survive this storm and come out a better, stronger, school-wide community.  In the meantime, I will continue to go to the meetings and hope that my children learn something positive from this situation.  I hope we all do. I hear stories on public radio about these same issues happening in cities like Detroit and Kansas City, where the economy has emptied schools and the school coffers.  All over the country, communities are struggling with these enormous concerns and attending endless meetings.  We are in this together and hopefully we will make our schools a better place for all the children.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Regina Brewer.

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Filed under: At Home • Policy • Voices
soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. lawn maintenance bloomington in

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    February 21, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  2. Jessie

    Captain Jones you are a troll...and obviously not currently working at any job much less a teacher as you are posting your stupid comments on here at 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Or maybe you are a teacher and you just troll on the internet spewing your venomous comments to anybody who will listen. You have some serious issues and are very bitter. I am sorry your life did not work out as you planned, but keep in mind that we are the architects of our own destruction. Stop trolling and learn some internet ediquite.

    February 21, 2012 at 2:03 am |
  3. Peter Chu

    It is perfect time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I wish to suggest you some interesting things or suggestions. Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article. I want to read more things about it!

    February 18, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  4. Rebecca Patz

    I was just watching a story about a 10 year old boy was kicked off the school for misbehaving. His mother was tired of him getting in trouble like this and so decided he could just walk to school and back. A police officer saw the boy walking and picked him up to give him a ride home, and promptly wrote his mother a ticket for child endangerment. It seems that the boy lives 4 miles from his school and the police officer was concerned that so many things can happen to a child walking home from school, especially for that distance. Regarding your particular issue, why would a child be bussed 4 miles from his home? The boy, by the way, did not think his mother was unreasonable. It seems that politics are endangering children.

    February 17, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • Rebecca Patz

      Sorry..I'm meant to say that the 10 year old was kicked off the the school BUS.

      February 17, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  5. Josie Behnke

    While as a parent I can see the concerns of moving a kid to a unfamiliar place, at the same time I also know kids are stronger then adults seem to think. I moved most of my life, sometimes during the school year, but most of the time during the summer. My dad was military, and moving was a part of life. Yes each school work slightly different, yes there are new classmates to meet, and YES it does suck being the new kid over and over again. BUT as an adult I would not change a bit of how I got my education. If a parent thinks moving from one school in the neighborhood to another in a different neighborhood is hard, try moving from one country to another country. One thing that my parents did...they were involved in our education, they talked with the teachers, got us the extra help we needed, rode us to get good grades, and made sure we understood what was going on. They made sure we got into neighborhoods with kids near us that were our age, and meet the neighbors that would help watch us. With these kids, I don't see parents moving, so they still come home to the same house, if there are friends in the neighborhood, they can still see them and hang out together. Maybe get away from the t.v. and games so much and go outside and have fun.

    February 17, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  6. LJ

    Regina – Your article summarizes the sentiment of a great deal of parents in our school district. I have also attended the APS meetings in my district and was impressed by the comments of our PTA presidents, parents and my community. Whether you live in Morningside, Buckhead, the Old Fourth Ward or Inman Park, there appears to be an overwhelming disapproval of the proposed redistricting plans and a desire to maintain our neighborhood schools. I am very disappointed by the recent comments made by Erroll Davis that were videotaped and published online by the Patch this week. I do not understand why advocating for our children to attend neighborhood schools is compared by Mr. Davis as not wanting to disrupt our "country club" and why he is expressing irriation at the number of emails he has received. I also wonder why our local news has not broadcast excerpts of this interview and why it is acceptable for Mr. Davis, as a public official, to make such comments. I think that CNN should explore in greater detail the controversy surrounding these redistricting proposals in Atlanta. Advocating for our neighborhood schools does not, in and of itself, equate to racism.

    February 16, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  7. APS Mom

    Regina, thank you for sharing this insight. I really appreciate it, and would like to talk with you! I am an APS parent, and have spent the past year (on a volunteer basis) creating a proposal that would engage the local college community (over 100,000 students) to tutor APS students learning below grade level for free, in exchange for course credit (The PLUS Program). After hundreds of hours and countless meetings, my kids also beg me to stay home instead of fight for PLUS. I have cut back on some of the meetings reecntly, but still try to share the idea when opportunities arise. I would love to tell you more about the proposal, as I think it could make a difference in schools across the country. Creating this kind of relationship capital could significantly improve the quality of public education, encourage more people to pursue education as a career, and encourage more children to go to college. Please contact me through email. I have worked with Abby at CINS and Cynthia at NAPPS on PLUS, and they can serve as references. Good luck with redistricting, I hope you are successful in your efforts!

    February 16, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  8. Ely

    I think paying student to go to school is good cause you will have money when you get out of highschool. Then they will come to school more. I think it is a good idea. And they will have money for college.

    February 16, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Chandra

      Wait, let me get this straight.....you want the APS to PAY students to come to school???? On top of the $6742 per year they already spend to teach EACH student? (http://www.bestplaces.net/city/georgia/atlanta) I'm all for it as long as it comes out of YOUR paycheck.......

      February 16, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Chandra

      Oh, and one more thing...if they make good grades, they get paid $8000 per year to go to college....maybe you've heard of it...it's called HOPE.

      February 16, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • neil

      I think someone should have paid you to go to school. You might have learned how to write.

      Maybe next, we can pay kids to be nice. Maybe they can get paid to clean their room, take out the trash, do the dishes and watch TV instead of playing on the XBox. How about paying them to take a shower, brush their teeth and walk the dog.

      Maybe you should pay them to stop picking on you.

      Good article by the way.

      February 17, 2012 at 1:25 am |
  9. Zaria

    Personally, from my experiance redistricting just moves the problems around. My neighborhood was redistricted, and while I am much happier at the new high school, many still consider it below par. The old school, which was given the poorer neighborhoods, is now suffering in scores. Instead of wasting money on redistricting, it would be much smarter to use that money to help these kids. They aren't stupid. It isn't because of race. They just dont have the same luxuries that I know I , and others, have. When they need to worry about helping parents with bills and maintaining a job, studies fall on the wayside. Redistricting doesn't help

    February 15, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  10. Voice of Reason

    I have seen racial, economic, and cultural politics in every redistricting plan I have observed. The core of the problem is adults in the form of board members and parents being too coward to do what is the best interest of ALL children and not just their children. Our school systems' issues are symptomatic of our society's issues of race, class, and culture. We need a more perfect union.

    February 15, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • ajbuff

      Every kid, rich and poor, wants to be able to attend a school that is nearby. In their community. No one wants their kid on a bus for 40 minutes each way going to a school 10 miles away, etc., when there is a school in their neighborhood. The few that do send their children far away to private schools. There is no elitism or nefarious intent involved. Most parents work, they need a stable situation at home where kids are nearby and they have neighbors who can help them and that they know, and it doesn't help anyone to get bused to a school far away unless it is by choice.

      February 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Sean

      A parent’s job is to look out for THEIR kids interests not YOUR kids. There is no justifiable reason a child should have to go to a school across town just so the kid from the ghetto can go to school in the burbs. The argument we here from the “PC” side is it’s about being fair. Where is the fair aspect? One kid still has to attend the ‘poor’ school…why should it be the kid that lives 40mins away and not the kid who lives 5mins away? You can force people together but you cannot force people to be the same. And you call yourself a Voice of Reason…ha!

      February 20, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
      • Sean

        Hear*

        February 20, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  11. An actual teacher

    I agree with the other educator'v very correct view. Many of these "neighborhood" parents have no clue whether or not their child is receiving quality instruction. I doubt they know what "quality instruction" even looks like! This is a downfall of our profession, parents feel they can do a teacher's job, and better! They seem to forget we are trained experts, going to school for 4, 6, 8 years to learn new theories and methods. All most of these parents care about is property value and student population. Take them to private school then, if this is how strongly you feel! Many of the parents who are enraged at these meetings have NEVER even stepped foot in the proposed new schools. Ignorance is running around rapidly among these parents, gaining momentum with every baseless comment made. I wonder how many of these parents have even thought to ask the administration or teachers at their child's schools of their opinion. Most teachers feel shameful of their presumption.

    February 15, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • ajbuff

      As a parent I have to say that the strongest argument against this shuffling is neighborhood. My children are close enough to walk when necessary (we have a two working parent home), we know all our neighbors, and we know who is home and can watch them in an emergency, etc. It would never be a matter of not wanting to include new people, or not wanting to change the population of their school or neighborhood, but to live in a community is important to many people. Whatever that community looks like, it is community. We bought our home not to get into any sort of elite or special school district, but because we wanted our kids to be able to walk to school, to have the before and after hours support of our neighbors, and to be able to see their classmates outside of school. Moving kids does more damage than any hoped for benefit. The closest private school is 24 miles away – in what way would that be an option?

      February 15, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • Sean

      @ An actual teacher
      Wait..wait..wait… First teachers complain parents are not involved enough but now you are complaining they are involved? As far as trained experts..is that a bad joke?. In some places you only need a certification. Not that any of that has to do we redistricting, your comment is just a rant about parents. I hope you are NOT an actual teacher.

      February 20, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  12. Sara

    It is easy to dismiss the school zoning issues as being rooted in racism or elitism. The reality is, there is an enormous difference in schools with parents who "care" versus those with parents who don't. This is based in my own experience coming through the GA public school system. To me, that's what this issue will always come down to. Unfortunately, some children come from very sad situations. And while I have compassion for them, that doesn't mean that I want my 6 yr old coming home with the language or other knowledge that some children bring from home. Ex: pretending like pencil shavings in a sandwich baggie are drugs. How do you teach parents that their children should be a priority if they don't know this already? Without successfully doing that, the cycle will continue for generations.

    February 15, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  13. Mark B.

    Vouchers for private schools would end this madness. God and authority back in schools would end this madness.The public school system is the worst than Congress. It is a complete failure. High assessment score on tests that are dumbed down still turn out woefully unskilled, uneducated and unprepared graduates.

    February 15, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • ohbehave

      I wouldn't trust government schools to enlist the help of a god. No. Public schools need to have the ability to do the one "magic trick" that private schools have: the ability to say "goodbye" to students and parents who reject education... who hold classrooms hostage to extreme disrespect and disruption. Public school should be free TO ALL WHO ACTUALLY *WANT* IT. Those who fancy themselves thugs and such, tragic as the case may be, should be dismissed.

      February 15, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
      • truefax

        TOTALLY AGREE! Education is being abused, cps makes kids come to school who don't want to be there and they disrup the learning environment for everyone else. It is sad for them but you know what for the GREATER GOOD they need to be drop kicked out of school.

        February 15, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Katie

      Sorry, I completely disagree with vouchers for private schools. My tax dollars should go to improve public education – where theoretically all kids have a shot at learning. Private schools can and do select their students carefully so as to keep up their high scores, their graduation rate, and therefore their reputation. I do NOT want my tax dollars going to shore up their prestige while the nearby public school is staggering the overwhelming load of learning challenged, special needs, and physically handicapped kids in addition to the regular mix of slow and fast learners. If parents want their children in a private school they need to figure out how to pay for that privilege. If parents feel the local public school isn't good enough they need to figure out what to do to bring about needed changes. YOU can make a difference, but YOU have to be willing to put in the effort, instead of asking for money to put your kid in private school.

      February 15, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  14. Carla

    I made my children attend private catholic schools, we gave up many material things but I wanted my kids to go with peers of the same values and religion.
    High School was a Jesuit Prep for my son and daughter, they had many classmates from other religions, and backrounds.
    Both are adults, responsable, were not mall rats, hard working , worked to help with college costs.
    Schools are the base for a person, but I never would have asked or expect the teachers to take my place, I was a room mother,volunteer at school.
    Parents have to work with teachers. I see many parents that do not care if their kids live at the Mall, take drugs, out on school days, parents would do anything to give their kids expensive material things, in my kids prep school nobody was allowed to drive or be driven to school, on no uniform days, no brand logos clothing were allowed.
    The worse place for kids is at the border towns with Mexico, american children are bused in order to make room in their towns for mexican children that are permited to cross and study while this amarican parents foot the bill.

    February 15, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  15. An Educator's View

    What's ironic is that these lower performing schools often have the best teachers. These are teachers who work their tail off and work with students of lower socio-economic status. It takes a variety of instructional methods to work with such a population and to have the ability to have a rapport with students in this type of situation. This parent will most likely end up sending her child to a better performing school where she'll have average teachers, but will be surrounded by more affluent peers so the test scores will make it seem like a 'good' school. By taking the narrow view, this mother is actually hindering her daughter's development in the long term.

    February 15, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  16. Rick

    Not even White Liberals want to send their kids to disastrous, majority black Atlanta schools. This article strikes me as funny. Denying reality doesn't change it, honey. You shouldn't have invested your life into such a hell-hole.

    February 15, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • Saffron

      I don't see anything that shows that she's a liberal. Nothing I read showed she was liberal at all. I, however, am liberal and I have no problem with my kids going to a school with a diverse ethnic population, in fact, I sought out a neighborhood where it was guaranteed so they wouldn't turn into racist jerks.

      February 15, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • Katie

      Spoken like someone who pays no attention to what this article was about. If I moved into a neighborhood for the school located there, I would be upset too if my child was bused across the city to some other school. This redistricting is happening everywhere. In rural places it's called consolidating, but the outcome is the same: instead of being able to go to the little school a mile (or a couple blocks) away, kids have to get on a bus – which is NOT cost effective with today's fuel prices – and ride for at least forty-five minutes twice a day. After school activities and events and best friends who live miles and miles away become another burden for parents. What's so wrong with neighborhood schools? If your neighborhood school is not good enough for your child, you need to spend your energy fixing the problems.

      February 15, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  17. Captain Jones

    Whaaa Whaaa...I work in education and am sick and tired of being the parents personal daytime baby sitters. That's really all they are concerned about, where can I dump my kids off so I don't have to take care of them! Thank god retirement is just around the corner, I've done my time listenting to the ungrateful whining of parents and their kids. Hey, this is public education. Take what you get or shutup and send your kid to private school. These kids today should feel lucky enough to attend ANY school. So a change in schools might make them uncomfortable? Boo Hoo. These are the things that are turning our youth into uneducated idiots. Instead of complaining, parents should embrace the change and tell their kids this is how it's going to be whether you like it or not. Buck up and just get down to the business of learning. And for all of you parents that want to bash teachers and schools, I have a fine solution, go to college, get a Masters Degree and become a teacher! Anybody can do it! Then you have nothing to complain about.

    February 15, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Dana

      Oh boo hoo. I have a Master's degree and used to be a teacher and I WILL complain about my child's teachers and school. They are exactly like you and you deserve to be fired.

      February 15, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
      • Captain Jones

        Home school your kid then smart ass. You have a masters degree, certainly you can do it better. You did say you were a teacher?

        February 16, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • Mark B.

      Man, am I glad you have nothing to do with my child. You should be in another profession.

      February 15, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
      • Captain Jones

        You must have a uterus too.

        February 16, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Saffron

      I'm glad you are retiring. Discovered teaching was hard work, huh? Not all "off at 3" and "out all summer" so you could play all the time. No wonder the children's parents complain, you are a lousy role-model.

      February 15, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
      • Captain Jones

        I'm glad I'm retiring too. Going to live off my nice big tier 1 pension that I work 35 years for! It's going to be really nice because I never had any kids!!! I'm going got take all of your tax dollers and put it right into my nice fat bank account. Then I'll have even more time to complain about parent, kids and education. I"ve certainly done the time. What have you done for 35 years straight, celebrate your uterus?

        February 16, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • Shirley

      I am glad you are retiring too! I am a parent that works full time – I made a big decision in my life to not travel for work anymore (which has limited my career) just so that I could be there for my daugther when she gets off the bus and help with homework each night. Parents don't expect a daytime babysitter – they (we) expect a teacher to (gasp) TEACH them important things and to work as a team with parents.

      February 15, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
      • Captain Jones

        Go celebrate your uterus too!

        February 16, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  18. Anne

    Sorry, I can't read this article without the blaring undertone of "upper middle class white parents don't want their children going to school with poor black kids".

    February 15, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • Dana

      And? Want your child to be bullied by kids whose parents don't really care what they do? I don't.

      February 15, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Allen

      Anne, Upper middle class white parents do not want their children to go to school with poor black kids because they don't want their children to be brutalized on a daily basis. I know this from personal experience. Poor black kids are not the noble victims you think they are.

      February 15, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  19. Scott

    The thing I notice in this article beside the very thinly veiled racism and elitism thoughts are that she is so worried about having control of the situation that her kids are suffering for it. If she is so worried about what is best for the kids then stay home and be a mom instead of being someone who obviously wants things done her way no matter the cost.

    February 15, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  20. Punkass

    What was the point of this article? No real details or insight into the problem. I dont care about how the mother feels, I want to know the facts, which is why I read the article. How many students in the district? How many districts are being restructured? What is the limit to the number of students in each school? how many schools are affected? This opinion piece is flippin terrible.

    February 15, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  21. reader

    oh! are your kids going to be sharing space with those who are less privilege than you?

    February 15, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • CandlerPark-Atlanta Resident

      You are spot on with your comment. The parents in my neighborhood complain that they older elementary kids have to be in trailers, but when proposal is put out that allows the kids to go into a school with room there is a huge issue. Why, because the school is not the same "culture" yes I have seen that terminology used and barely veiled in this issue. The kids would be staying together, just going to a different location for grades. There would be no tremendous shift of friends as they would all be going to the same school. From my POV is is classism and racism disguised as not wanting to move from a neighborhood school.

      February 15, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Katie

      I see a parent afraid of change, yes, but not necessarily a racist or elitist. This parent chose this location in part because of the school – perhaps her child walks to school and now faces the possibility of having to ride the bus for an hour twice a day. I have a sister in Atlanta who chose her neighborhood for the school system. Her next door neighbor is black. Her son's best friend is Mexican. Her son's teacher is Asian. It's not about race or color. It's about being close enough to walk to school and knowing all the neighbors within that walking radius.

      February 15, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • tom

      So you are saying you are O.K. with paying higher taxes because you decided to buy a nice house in a nice area with good schools only to find out your kid is now going to be bussed over to a different less desirable school only to make it fair for kids of parents who rely on the government for everything? Yep sounds fair to me. I work hard in school, get a good paying job and buy a house in a nice area with a good school only so my kids can get bussed to a bad school and the kids in that neighborhood where nobody seems to work, get bussed to the school my child should be attending. Sounds like a liberal mindset to me.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  22. Ralph

    Regina, your rose colored glasses will fall off one day, but one day too late. Watch the local news where an APS official was filmed saying "thank God for SPAM blockers" from all the email comments sent to him by concerned parents about redistricting.

    February 15, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  23. tom

    I totally understand where the parents might be angry. When I was growing up my parents seemed to love to move and along with that I had to start at a new school. All the friends I had were gone and I had to make new ones. All the things I learned were taught differently at different schools so I had to relearn their ways also. I hated it and swore that when I have kids I am staying in the same house so they stay at the same school. My wife went through the same thing as a child so she understands. Well we have been at the same house for 13 years and have a 4th grader and kindergartner. My 4th grader has been in 3 different schools already because of "border changes" and will be going to another different school for 6th grade and then Junior High and Senior High. By the time she is done she will have gone to at least 6 different schools and thats if they don't change the borders again. Her old school was three miles from our house but with redistricting her new school is 14 miles from our house. Tell me how that makes sense?

    February 15, 2012 at 10:23 am |