Parents said at Monday night’s Columbia School Board meeting that they want to ensure the redrawing of attendance areas isn’t too disruptive to students.
Over 30 parents attended the meeting to hear Scott Leopold, attendance area consultant with Cooperative Strategies, present his process for rezoning and the project’s timeline to the board. Redistricting will accommodate the opening of a seventh middle school in Columbia.
Also on Monday evening, board president Jan Mees confirmed that Kevin Brown, assistant superintendent for secondary education, is leaving the district. He remains under contract, Mees said. More information will be available Tuesday, district spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said.
Parents were mainly concerned that the same handful of neighborhoods are repeatedly affected by redistricting. Leopold recognized that some neighborhoods are affected more than others because of geographical and man-made borders. He said the process would try to be “sensitive” while drawing new school attendance boundaries.
Jennifer Roberts, parent and the founder of online group Start2Finish, has a child in Rock Bridge High School. She said she lives in a neighborhood that has been redistricted in the past.
“I don’t want my kid to take one for the team again,” Roberts said. “It’s the same families over and over that are being asked to take one for the team.”
Other parents from Start2Finish also attended the meeting. The group’s main concern is that rezoning will cause high schoolers to be transferred. The guiding principles for the rezoning process, which were approved by the board on Sept. 10, recommend that only eighth- and 12th-graders remain at their current school. But parents in Start2Finish want this to apply to all high schoolers.
Leopold said the problem with this approach is transportation costs.
“This gives favor to communities that have the means to transport themselves,” Leopold said at the meeting. He referenced a Texas district that did this successfully, but said that it cost over $4 million in transportation costs over the span of five years.
Kermit Summerall, a member of Start2Finish, has two children who will be in their sophomore and junior years of high school when the new redistricting takes effect in fall of 2020.
“We’re really just asking that they consider rolling out the redistricting slowly so that students can stay in their high schools,” Summerall said in an interview Monday.
During scheduled public comment, parents also expressed concern for students’ mental health. Shawna Schulte gave a personal testimony about her son, Adam, who she said developed depression and anxiety after he was transferred between Columbia middle schools.
Schulte also said another transfer during high school “literally could be life or death for my son.”
“He’s found his place,” Schulte said about Adam’s current school in an interview. “It’s very scary to think he’d have to start all over again.”
Timeline for the process
Leopold said enrollment projections will be presented to the board on Nov. 12 and preliminary boundary options will be presented to focus groups based on data compiled for capacity, demographics and facilities and programs.
Interested community members will have the option to fill out an application to be a part of the focus groups. Leopold said the application will be posted on the district’s website by the end of the week.
Leopold will refine the options based on feedback from the focus groups, and he will present five to 10 options to the board on Dec. 20. These options will be put online with a survey attached. A series of open houses will also be held so that anyone in the community can provide feedback. The first one is scheduled for Jan. 7.
Leopold will recommend one option to the board on Feb. 4. The board will vote on the recommendation, and it is expected the boundaries will be finalized by April.
The board also approved a revised transfer policy at Monday’s meeting, which is intended mostly for students who would be affected by the redistricting but wish to stay in their original school for another year.
It also states that student transfers are a “privilege, not a right,” and addressed exceptions to the transfer request policy.
The policy also states that transfer requests will be considered for educational needs. The district will not consider transferring students for their convenience or because they want to remain with a peer group, according to the policy. Also, transportation will not be provided to students transferring to schools outside their new attendance area.
According to the policy, requests to transfer should be submitted by April 1, before the school year in which the transfer would take effect. For example, a seventh grader who wishes to stay in the same school for their eighth grade year must make the request by April 1 of their seventh grade year.
If a request is submitted after April 1, it will only be reviewed after the requests that were submitted by the deadline.
The transfer decisions will be made by May 1 and after pre-enrollment is completed.
Once the transfer is approved, the student will be allowed to attend the school for that year.
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