Beaufort News

Board to move some fifth graders to Robert Smalls Middle School next year

Fifth-graders from three elementary schools will attend Robert Smalls Middle School next year, the Beaufort County Board of Education decided Tuesday night.

The decision reverses a Sept. 6 vote not to move fifth-graders from Shell Point, Broad River and Shanklin elementary schools to Robert Smalls. Before that vote, parents urged the board to keep the 9- and 10-year-olds in elementary school. That motion failed on a tie vote.

But Tuesday, the board voted 9-2 in favor of the move. Steven Morello and Michael Rivers opposed the motion.

"I'm not saying there's not any better (options) out there, but at this time that's the best that I see," said Herbert Burnes, who made the motion to reconsider moving the fifth-graders.

The shuffle of students was prompted by the board's decision to close Shell Point Elementary School in 2012. Under the plan, Shell Point students would move into Broad River.

Tuesday's vote also moves students who live along Mink Point Boulevard and currently attend Broad River. Next year those students will attend Beaufort Elementary School. They will then go to Robert Smalls Middle for grades five through eight and Battery Creek High School for grades nine through 12.

After the board's initial decision not to move fifth-graders to Robert Smalls, district staff presented several alternatives to accommodate Shell Point students at a Sept. 20 meeting.

But none of those plans were met with board consensus. At that time, board members discussed revisiting the vote to move the fifth-graders.

The plans also were presented to parents at a Sept. 26 gathering at Robert Smalls. Concerns were raised that without the fifth-graders, Robert Smalls would be only about a third full, jeopardizing its viability. Some parents at that meeting asked the school board to reconsider moving fifth-graders to the middle school.

School board members shared concerns about the school's viability Tuesday when they reviewed several options proposed by community members, board members and district staff. Some of those options would have moved between 250 and 400 students.

It's not clear how many students will be affected by the board's vote because the reassignment of Mink Point Boulevard area students to Beaufort Elementary was not among the options researched and presented by district staff.

The decision prompted a mixed reaction.

Robert Smalls Middle Principal Denise Smith nodded in agreement and murmured her support as school board members spoke in favor of moving fifth-graders to her school.

But some parents present have staunchly disagreed with shifting fifth-graders since the idea was introduced.

Cathy Emmert, who has students in first and third grade at Shell Point and in ninth grade at Battery Creek, asked the school board not to move fifth-graders into Robert Smalls. Emmert disagreed with the logic that because fifth-graders attend Lady's Island and Whale Branch middle schools, they will adjust well at Robert Smalls. She also asked the board to allow for choice.

"How well a child handles being a 9- or 10-year-old in middle school depends on the child, and no one knows them better than their parents," Emmert said.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

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