Beaufort News

Elementary student shift in Bluffton raises parent concerns

Some parents of students at Okatie Elementary said they didn't know their children might attend a different elementary school next year until it had already been decided.

Okatie and Red Cedar elementary school parents gathered Tuesday at Bluffton Elementary School to voice concerns about attendance zone changes that move their students to Bluffton Elementary.

The Beaufort County Board of Education voted 7-4 on Aug. 5 to move students in the Rose Hill Plantation neighborhood from Okatie to Bluffton Elementary.

Students in the Old Carolina development and students who live off Buck Island Road south of Bluffton Parkway will also be moved from Red Cedar Elementary to Bluffton Elementary.

News about the vote was overshadowed by the decision to close Shell Point Elementary, school officials said.

Parents said Tuesday night if they had known that vote was planned, they would have made their voices heard earlier.

In total, about 170 resident students are affected, district officials said. The move is prompted by concerns that Red Cedar and Okatie elementaries are nearing capacity, while Bluffton Elementary has room.

The closer a school is to capacity, the higher the chance that class sizes will be larger, school district spokesman Jim Foster said.

Bluffton Elementary is currently at 64 percent capacity.

Red Cedar is currently at 95 percent capacity; Okatie is at 97 percent, Foster said.

The attendance zone shift is expected to bring Bluffton Elementary to 89 percent capacity, while lowering Red Cedar to 90 and Okatie to 91 percent.

The move was discussed this summer by a task force examining options for school closures and consolidations. The task force had five open meetings at Okatie Elementary school between June and July, when it presented its recommendations to the school board.

It was also up for discussion at three public meetings in May called to gather input on possible closings. But the meeting at Bluffton High School was sparsely attended by parents, board members Laura Bush and George Wilson said.

David Zendzian, a Rose Hill resident with three children, said his family didn't know about the shifts until his wife heard about it after a PTO meeting last week.

Superintendent Valerie Truesdale opened Tuesday's meeting with an apology that lines of communication had broken down, leaving parents unaware their children might be moved.

On Tuesday, parents asked the school board to reconsider the vote that moved their children. It was unclear Tuesday if the board would.

Both Bush and Wilson said they had heard from parents in the last week. They also said they heard nothing from parents before the vote.

There could have been a stronger effort to reach the affected families, they said, but the decision was not arrived at quickly or in secret.

Zendzian, who said he moved to the neighborhood so his children would attend Okatie Elementary, said making a decision just to balance enrollment isn't fair to families and students. He said he wanted his children to have teachers who knew their family because they had taught older siblings.

"That's what we had as kids, and we hoped our kids would have that. ... You can't just balance numbers," he said in an earlier conversation with a reporter Tuesday.

Bush said balancing enrollment at the elementary schools was important.

"Hopefully we can get parents to understand ... it's our job to equal out the number as much as we can," Bush said.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

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