Up to 1,000 Beaufort County students would move to new high schools next fall under a plan that won initial approval Friday from the Beaufort County Board of Education.
The plan abandons the district's current feeder system in which students attend high school with most of their classmates from elementary and middle school.
Board member Jim Bequette suggested at Friday's work session that the proposed Battery Creek High School attendance boundaries be expanded to include the Beaufort, Port Royal and Mossy Oaks elementary school areas. Only students in the Lady's Island Middle School zone would attend Beaufort High.
All students living along S.C. 170 south of the Broad River and north of Sun City Hilton Headwould be send to Battery Creek High following a suggestion by board vice chairman Bob Arundell. It would also send students living in the Colleton River Plantation and in the Sawmill Creek, Malphrus and Burnt Church roads areas to Hilton Head Island High School.
Arundell said earlier options presented by the administration didn't do enough to alleviate projected overcrowding at Bluffton High next year. The school now serves 1,528 students, and its population is expected to grow. The school was built to accommodate 1,434 students.
"Adopting an option that leaves Bluffton High School overcrowded on Day 1 just doesn't make sense," Arundell said. "This amendment makes the best use of all of our seats at all of our high schools."
Four public hearings on the student assignment plans will be held next week, and the board has scheduled a special meeting for 3 p.m. next Friday to take a final vote on the new attendance boundaries.
The board began studying the rezoning plans last month to better balance enrollment among the district's four high schools and accommodate the Whale Branch Early College High School, opening in Seabrook next fall.
At the overcrowded Beaufort and Bluffton high schools, students have been moved to mobile classrooms. Hilton Head Island and Battery Creek high schools have extra space, school officials say.
The new option recommended Friday would:
• Send to Whale Branch High students living in the Whale Branch Middle School attendance zone and students on the Laurel Bay military base and in surrounding neighborhoods, including Irongate, Pinewood and Capehart.
• Add to Battery Creek High's attendance zone all students living in the zones for Beaufort, Mossy Oaks and Port Royal elementary schools. It also would absorb students along S.C. 170 south of the Broad River and north of Sun City Hilton Head.
• Send to Beaufort High those in the Lady's Island Middle School attendance zone.
• Eliminate from Bluffton High's attendance zone the area along S.C. 170 north of Sun City Hilton Head, neighborhoods in the Sawmill Creek Road area, Colleton River Plantation and the Malphrus Road area, including Heritage Lakes, Olde Town Village and Pine Forest. About 50 students living in the Burnt Church Road area would also move to Hilton Head Island High, but the board hasn't drawn the exact boundary yet.
• Add to Hilton Head Island High neighborhoods in the Sawmill Creek Road area, Colleton River Plantation, neighborhoods in the Malphrus Road area and about 50 students living in the Burnt Church Road area.
Board members also presented other ideas Friday to reduce overcrowding, including expanding Bluffton Middle School, now under construction and scheduled to open next fall. The district could use the extra space as either an annex to the high school or to house students through ninth grade, some board members suggested.
"I don't think any of the options truly address where Bluffton High School is today," said board member Laura Bush. "We already have a mobile city behind that school."
But Superintendent Valerie Truesdale said an expansion would cost more than $1 million. It also could take at least two years to gather necessary approvals and build the addition.
The board then discussed ways to better enforce the district's transfer policy and agreed to continue the discussion over the next few months. Truesdale said several students are attending high schools they are not zoned for without approval. Some students, for example, list a relative's house as their home address or rent space in another attendance zone, district staff said.