By Heather Mullinix
Action by the Tennessee General Assembly could make recent discussions by the Cumberland County Board of Education regarding school zoning moot.
The legislature passed Senate Bill 1175/House Bill 941 this past session, requiring each school district to develop a policy for an open enrollment period. During this time, parents and guardians would be allowed to choose from a list of schools with available space and request a transfer.
Policies and procedures are to be in place in time for the 2014-'15 school year.
"That's how we do the elementary level now," Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle told the board during the June meeting.
The law would also apply to high schools; however, VanWinkle noted Stone Memorial High School had five teachers floating already because of the student population.
"There is no space available there," VanWinkle said.
In recent months, the board has eyed its school zoning policy, which allows parents to transport their children to a school out of their residential zone as long as it will not cause an overcrowding at the school.
In discussing the new law, Josh Stone, 4th District representative, said, "That pretty much says you can't hard zone."
The issue of zoning came up as the board was discussing possible building projects at North Cumberland Elementary in an effort to get rid of portable classrooms in use at the school. There are 47 students attending North Cumberland from out of zone, with eight students zoned for the school attending other schools. But the issue became a bit more difficult at South Cumberland Elementary, which has 206 students attending from out of the South school zone. That's not caused overcrowding at the school, VanWinkle told the board during a previous work session, because the school has utilized portable classrooms.
Of those 206 students, 92 students are zoned for Brown Elementary, nine for Crab Orchard, 32 for Homestead, 42 for Martin, 26 for Pleasant Hill and five for Stone Elementary.
Sixteen students zoned for South Cumberland attend other schools from out of zone.
Other changes in state law approved during the past legislative session include:
•Changing the date at which children must be four years of age from Sept. 30 to Aug. 31 for the 2013-'14 school year, and subsequent school years, for entrance to public pre-kindergarten programs and allows children who have attended certain pre-kindergarten programs in 2012-'13 and 2013-'14 school years to enter kindergarten the following school year;
•Requiring schools and others conducting youth athletic programs to adopt concussion policies, effective Jan. 1, 2014;
•Requires written proof that a child who moved out of state has enrolled in a school or program leading to a regular high school diploma in order not to count such student as a dropout;
•Requires any local government funding appropriations for non-recurring education expenditures to be excluded from the maintenance of the local funding requirement.