Natural boundaries should be used whenever possible to set attendance zones, and the Board of Education should avoid splitting neighborhoods with boundary lines, according to rules approved Monday by the board's Student Services Committee.
Attendance lines across the district are being redrawn, and the committee approved eight parameters to guide its decisions about how to assign students to schools.
"These give us a good working base to go from," said board member and committee chairwoman Evva Anderson. "As we're working through things, this gives us something to go back to and ask ourselves, 'Did we try to consider all these things to make the best decision for our children?' "
The full board will approve these parameters on the consent agenda at its next meeting, Anderson said.
The changes would go into effect when the two new Bluffton-area schools open, which district officials expect to be late 2015.
As the committee and board do their work, they will attempt to limit "grandfathering" -- the practice of allowing students to remain in schools they attended the previous year, even if their attendance boundaries have been changed -- and follow U.S. Office for Civil Rights rules that require school demographics to closely mirror the communities in which they are located.
Superintendent Jeffrey Moss created the list in consultation with district officials, as well as considering prior input from community and board members.
Moss said he thinks the district should be able to satisfy 90 percent of the items on the list with each zone. He said he didn't think one parameter was more important than the other, except that the U.S. Office for Civil Rights rules are not negotiable because the district is under a desegregation order.
Board member JoAnn Orischak, who represents part of Hilton Head Island, said the parameters are fair and reasonable.
"It's going to be a juggling act trying to incorporate all of those," she said. "The language gives some flexibility by saying 'when possible' or 'should,' but when you agree to that list, you do so in good faith and you try to accommodate all those requests."
Community member Mary Johnson, who serves on the district's strategic planning committee, said a particularly important guideline is ensuring students who live near a school attend that school, rather than one farther away.
Now that the parameters are in place, Moss said the board and the district can begin to look closely at the lines and develop some zoning proposals. His current plan would have the final zones decided in April to give parents more than a year before the students would change schools.
The 'boundaries' for redistricting
- 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 the elementary schools.
Interactive Beaufort County School District proposed attendance zone maps
High school attendance zones (Proposed by Moss on Sept. 26, 2013):
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