District to present attendance zones for committee's consideration

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comDecember 24, 2013 

The next school year is only eight months away, but the Beaufort County School District still is unsure where it will send many of its students.

The district and Board of Education will try to remedy that quickly, however, with plans to redraw all of the district's attendance lines and also give parents rules for sending their children to out-of-zone schools.

The board's Student Services Committee has scheduled meetings for Jan. 13, 23 and 30 to discuss plans. Each begins at 4:30 p.m. at Okatie Elementary School.

At the first meeting, superintendent Jeffrey Moss will present optimal attendance lines for the entire county. They will be determined according to district administrators' input, community feedback and criteria the board adopted in October, such as using natural boundaries and keeping neighborhoods intact.

Much conversation is expected about what to do with students in Moss Creek, who currently attend Hilton Head Island schools. Many parents have told district officials they would like their children to remain there.

School board Chairman Bill Evans said the district and board will do the best it can to accommodate parents' wishes. But he added that redrawing attendance zones is a balancing act that entails other considerations, such as growing enrollment or the district's voluntary desegregation order, which influences schools' racial makeup.

While much of the focus has been on southern Beaufort County and the two new Bluffton schools, Moss said attendance zones for the schools in northern Beaufort County require more immediate attention.

The Bluffton and Hilton Head zones won't change until the new schools are completed in 2015. But starting next year, fifth grade is returning to the northern Beaufort County elementary schools, and Robert Smalls Middle School will house students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

"Those changes are happening in six months," Moss said. "So this actually needs to be the more immediate focus."

After the three meetings, Moss said the committee should have less than a handful of recommendations to take to the full board.

While the committee meetings are open to the public, the district also plans to hold a meeting in each of the five school clusters during February to hear from the community.

"At the end of all five of those meetings, we will go back and reflect on what those folks have told us and modify the plans if necessary to get the best zones possible," Moss said.

Criteria for attendance zones

The Beaufort County School District intends to follow several rules for redrawing attendance zones:

  • Open schools within 75 to 89 percent capacity to allow for growth.

  • Demographics should reflect the community and follow Office for Civil Rights guidelines.

  • Students living within 1 mile of school should be given priority for attendance.

  • Minimize the transition for students between elementary, middle and high school.

  • Use natural boundaries, such as highways and rivers, when possible.

  • Keep neighborhoods together when possible.

  • Consider grandfathering students only in their highest year of school in the building (fifth, eighth and 12th grades).

  • Return fifth grade to all elementary schools.
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