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School attendance lines approved

WINDSOR – The lines have been drawn.

In a special called meeting here Thursday morning, the Bertie County Board of Education approved changes in the attendance lines for the district’s four remaining elementary schools. This comes on the heels of the school board approving an earlier measure to close Askewville and J.P. Law elementary schools at the end of the current academic year rather than 2007 as originally planned.

Gary Cordon made the motion to approve the attendance lines as charted by Bertie County Public Schools (BCPS) Transportation Coordinator Vernice Murphy. His motion passed by a 4-1 margin with Melinda Eure casting the dissenting vote.

During the process of redrawing the attendance lines, Murphy said she worked with the elementary school principals and central office staff in an effort to evenly distribute the students. There was also a keen effort placed upon keeping the time students spend being transported by buses to and from school as minimum as possible.

“We do not want any student on a bus prior to 6:45 a.m.,” Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, BCPS Superintendent, said. “In speaking to parents about this issue, the time their children spend on a school bus was a major concern. We will add buses to our fleet in order to limit the time spent traveling to and from school. We must realize that other students in the county will be affected by these new lines, not just those who attended Askewville and J.P. Law.”

Murphy then presented the proposed attendance numbers (K-5) for 2006-07 at the elementary school level.

Aulander Elementary School (227 student capacity) will have a projected attendance of 191children. Some students have been moved from Askewville and West Bertie. The race breakdown is 83.4 percent black, 2.7 percent Hispanic and 13.9 percent white.

Colerain Elementary School (355 capacity) is projected to have an attendance of 309 students. This school added students from Askewville and J.P. Law. By race, Colerain will be comprised by 79.8 percent black and 18.5 percent white. There are four students listed as multi-race and one Asian student.

“Colerain was a school district where we had to work really hard to lessen the transportation times,” Murphy said. “Most of the buses we are adding to our fleet will be assigned to the Colerain district.”

West Bertie (459 capacity) will be the home of 426 students, according to Murphy’s projections. The only existing students moving to the school are from the Askewville district, particularly those living in the Republican Road area. The race breakdown is 1.4 percent American Indian, 89.3 percent black, 3.0 percent Hispanic and 6.0 percent white. There is one multi-race student.

Windsor Elementary’s 487 projected students brings the school to nearly full capacity (501). Among its new students will be the majority of the children from J.P. Law as well some from Askewville and West Bertie. By race, Windsor will see 1.6 percent Asian, 81.9 percent black and 13.9 percent white. There will be four American Indians, four Hispanics and three multi-race students attending.

School Board Chairman Seaton Fairless inquired about classroom numbers in regards to possible overcrowding issues. Murphy assured Fairless that the classroom sizes will remain at, and hopefully below, state standards.

Eure expressed a concern dealing with the Askewville students, especially those residing on White Oak Road.

“I had a feeling the boundary lines for Colerain and Windsor would fall somewhere on White Oak Road,” Eure noted as she stood and looked at a large map of the proposed attendance zones. “Those living on White Oak Road close to Askewville will be attending Windsor next year while those living a short distance away in the town of Askewville will be attending Colerain. These children have grown up together, attended school together and gone to church together, but now will attend different schools.”

Murphy responded by saying that particular issue was addressed in drawing the new lines. She said every attempt was made to keep pockets of students together when all possible.

Eure then inquired if parents had the right to ask for transfers.

“Yes, they can make an appeal,” Dr. Collins-Hart answered. “But please keep in mind that because of our court order (through the U.S. Department of Justice), transfers will be denied once they reach my desk. However, the parents still have the right to appeal to the full Board.”

“I don’t feel sending a few kids to Windsor will affect our goal of gaining unitary status through the court order,” Eure responded.

Cordon asked about the attendance lines along Indian Woods Road, to which Murphy said those living on that road to Indian Woods Baptist Church will attend Windsor while those living past the church will attend West Bertie.

“We have to look at the whole county and what’s best for everyone,” Fairless stressed. “Wherever these new lines were drawn, someone isn’t going to like it.”

“I agree; we do represent the entire county, but I also represent my (Askewville) district,” Eure replied.

“It looks to me that this plan will benefit the entire county,” board member Rickey Freeman said. “I’m very pleased that the travel times are being reduced.”

It was Freeman who put things in perspective when he addressed how it was up to the parents/guardians to put a positive spin on this issue.

“If you put two children together for the first time, they hold no animosities; they will play together,” he said. “These children do not need to hear any negative comments from their parents about this redistricting issue. If they do hear that at home they will take that negative attitude to school.”

Cordon said this had turned into a “white, black” issue, but he was pleased to see the four schools close to the district-wide numbers of 87 percent black and 13 percent white.

“That’s about what I’m seeing in the racial breakdown at each school,” Cordon noted.

Prior to the favorable vote, Fairless closed the discussion by saying, “This issue is painful at the present moment, but we’re doing all we can to get the (federal) government off our backs and gain unitary status.”

The plan adopted on Thursday has been pre-approved by the Department of Justice.