School board debates proposal to shift high school students

  • More than 350 students in the Port Royal and Mossy Oaks areas could be moved to Battery Creek High School if the Beaufort County Board of Education adopts a suggestion last week from district administrators.
  • The change would limit Beaufort High School's attendance zone to students on Lady's and St. Helena islands.

    Students in the Beaufort Middle School zone would attend Battery Creek, along with students in the Robert Smalls Middle School zone.

    The proposal comes less than a year after a contentious debate on high school rezoning that ended in March with the board voting to move all students in the Beaufort Elementary zone to Battery Creek from Beaufort High. The vote included a provision allowing any student in the Beaufort Elementary zone who already attends Beaufort High to remain there.

    The board had considered broader options that would have more evenly distributed enrollment among the district's five high schools, but it backed off after more than 200 residents attended a public hearing to protest.

    As a result, Beaufort High remained overcrowded this year, serving about 1,650 students in a building designed for 1,595, according to district data.

    The two other high schools in northern Beaufort County -- Battery Creek and Whale Branch Early College High School -- are under capacity. Battery Creek serves about 850 students in a building configured to serve 1,505. Whale Branch serves 400 students and has a capacity of 611.

    Board chairman Fred Washington Jr. said now is a good time to revisit the proposal because the board is evaluating several suggestions related to efficient use of its school buildings.

    At its work session Nov. 12, the board received several proposals to address about 6,000 empty seats in the county's 30 public schools. Suggestions included closing Shell Point Elementary and the St. Helena Early Childhood Center.

    Washington said eliminating overcrowding that exists in a few county schools is relevant to the suggestions for reducing excess capacity in other buildings.

    "Instead of doing things piecemeal, we have to look at it all simultaneously," he said.

    Washington said he hopes the board votes on the proposals by the end of the year, but he won't rush a decision. Three public hearings have been scheduled to gather community input before the board votes.

    But Cassi Kilpatrick, president of the Parent Action Council at Beaufort Middle School, said reaching a decision in five or six weeks -- during the holidays -- on an issue that would dramatically affect students and their families is rushing. She said many parents aren't aware the proposal is being considered.

    "We put this to bed once, and now we're bringing it back up at a very busy time for families," said Kilpatrick, who lives in the Mossy Oaks area and has a sixth-grader at Beaufort Middle School and a ninth-grader at Beaufort High School.

    "We take three or four weeks to plan a middle school dance," she said. "(Rezoning) should take 12 months. These things don't take five weeks."

    Kilpatrick said she wants the board to delay changing attendance zones and instead develop a task force of parents and community representatives to examine enrollment numbers and other data and make a recommendation.

    "Really tough decisions become reasonable decisions when you get the community involved and you have input and buy-in," she said.

    The board has not yet discussed when the changes, if approved, would take effect.