Beaufort County school board approves districtwide attendance zones

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comApril 1, 2014 

The Beaufort County Board of Education votes 9-1 to approve a districtwide attendance zone plan at its April 1, 2014, meeting, with JoAnn Orischak opposing. The board approved a plan the keeps students within a mile of Coosa Elementary attending the school. It also keeps students in The Gatherings, Moss Creek and Buckingham Landing neighborhoods zones to Hilton Head schools, sending students only in the Old South community to Bluffton schools.

STAFF PHOTO

The wait -- and the suspense -- are over.

Beaufort County School District parents finally know where their children will go to school at least for the immediate future.

The school board approved a long-awaited attendance zone plan Tuesday night for all schools across the county. The vote was 9-1 vote, with JoAnn Orischak opposing and Geri Kinton absent.

The plan keeps students within a mile of Coosa Elementary School attending the school.

It also sends only Old South neighborhood students to Bluffton schools while keeping students from The Gatherings, Moss Creek and Buckingham Landing communities zoned to Hilton Head Island schools.

The zones for northern Beaufort County schools will go into effect next school year.

Those for the county's southern schools take effect when two new Bluffton schools open.

"We have an attendance zone plan, finally," board chairman Bill Evans said. "I think we've discussed this issue just about to death in the past five to six months, and at some point we (had) to vote."

Orischak said she voted against the plan because she felt The Gatherings, Moss Creek and Buckingham Landing communities should be zoned to Bluffton schools. However, she said those students currently attending Hilton Head schools should be grandfathered in until graduation.

However, many Moss Creek parents -- who have attended more than 15 meetings about the zones -- are thrilled with the board's final decision.

The board decided to move Old South largely because it has the largest number of students -- about 140 -- while the three other communities have less than that combined, at about 120 students.

Keeping those three neighborhoods zoned to Hilton Head puts all of the island's schools at around 85 percent capacity -- leaving some, but not much, room for academic choice.

"Of course, as a parent, I don't want my children to go to an overcrowded school, but I'm in those schools almost every day and they are not too big right now," Moss Creek parent Melissa Babcock said after the meeting.

"You still don't know down the road what is going to happen," she added, "but feel I can breathe easy for the next few years."

The board said it hopes that is the case.

Several board members said they hope they found a balance between listening to parents' concerns and feedback and making the "hard decisions" that will be best for the future of the school system.

"When we started to do this process, the goal was to allow room for school growth and academic choice while moving as few children as possible," board member Jim Beckert said. "That has proven to be a very difficult task."

Superintendent Jeff Moss said these changes address the district's problem of under- and overcrowded schools as well as leaving some room for future growth and academic choice.

The district will now present the new zones to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights to make sure they comply with a voluntary desegregation order, which influences schools' racial makeup. Moss said he is positive the zones will be approved.

County schools also will begin to verify families' addresses to ensure students are attending their zoned school.

"This whole process has shown the board's desire to look at every possible angle to find solutions that satisfy the vast majority of parents as well as the needs of the district," Moss said.

"Although there were some difficult decisions, I think they made the right decisions taking in to account both current and projected enrollment numbers."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

Related content:

  • Beaufort County school board amends attendance zone plan, to vote Tuesday, March 29, 2014: http://bit.ly/1s3mpu9
  • School attendance zones recommendation still unmade, March 19, 2014: http://bit.ly/P587tZ
  • Coosa Elementary parents question proposed attendance zone changes, February 25, 2014: http://bit.ly/P58fd9
  • School board hears concerns from Moss Creek parents at first meeting, February 3, 2014: http://bit.ly/P58kxa
  • Committee decides on attendance zone plan to take to community, January 30, 2014: http://bit.ly/P58q8h
  • Student Services Committee approves parameters for new attendance zones, October 21, 2013: http://bit.ly/P58wfW
  • Beaufort schools move forward on plan to add modular units at Coosa Elementary, January 7, 2014: http://bit.ly/P58Efy
  • School board votes to change grade configurations at district schools, October 25, 2013: http://bit.ly/P58SDi


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