The Cumberland County Board of Education approved a policy regarding hard zoning for high school students on final reading Thursday night.

With a 9-0 voice vote, the school attendance area policy was revised to state high schools would be zoned by feeder elementary schools, and students who attended elementary school out of zone would attend the high school based on their residence. Elementary schools would continue to be zoned by bus routes, but elementary students with their own transportation could attend out of zone if room was available at the school they wished to attend with the approval of the director of schools.

During a public hearing prior to the regular meeting, parent Mark Fox asked the board to show some sensitivity to students that would be separated from classmates they had attended school with for a number of years.

"I'm requesting the board of education apply the same sensitivity that they used in their judgment regarding the transfer of students to Stone Memorial High School and Cumberland County High School as they have shown in the past," Fox said. Fox reminded the board of its decision to allow out-of-zone 7th- and 8th-grade students to remain at Martin Elementary in 2004 when Martin was overcrowded and hard zoning was applied.

"At that time, the board qualified its decision to hard zone Martin Elementary at the pleas of the parents who petitioned the board to allow the 7th- and 8th-graders to remain with their cohort group," Fox said. "My request is in keeping with this precedent. Obviously we will have a new school zoning policy. We have 7th- and 8th-graders in the elementary schools now that have attended classed with their groups for as many as nine years. They've joined the same clubs, played the same sports, participated in the same extra-curricular activies as a group. Your hard zoning lines for CCHS and Stone Memorial will take these groups and move them to a new school together with one exception, and that's those children who have homes outside the designated bus zones and they will be split from their cohort group.

"Those of us who are impacted by the hard zoning rule respect the board's decision to balance the schools' populations. But we are just as concerned as those Martin parents were that our children be able to metriculate on to high school in comfort and security."

Fox asked the board to consider a two-year grandfather clause to the high school zoning policy to give parents and students an opportunity to adjust to hard zoning and to keep those students together.

Andrea Cravens, a parent with a rising senior and 8th-grader, said, "For the past four years, my son has gone out of zone, but there are so many parents its just not feasible because it takes so much time to get them back and forth. Like I said, I was guilty of it, but I feel that kids can adjust and make new friends. If they start at the high school, they're all going to buddies. They'll know each other from ball teams. If we let them choose, it's not going to be fair to the children that aren't going to be able to decide where they'll go. I think there will be a lot of one-sided teams and it won't be fair to the kids. You have to learn at an early age there are rules and it's hard to make exceptions."

Shirley Rinks told the board she had an 8th-grade grandchild. "He wants to go wherever the best ball team is. He doesn't care who has to take him or what. We're going to have to draw a line somewhere. He has to go in his zone now. We're for hard zoning now except for the seniors."

The policy states all secondary students must attend the high school serving the feeder schools in the zone where they reside.

Feeder schools for CCHS are: Brown Elementary, Martin Elementary, Pleasant Hill Elementary and South Cumberland Elementary. Feeder schools for SMHS are North Cumberland Elementary, Crab Orchard Elementary, Homestead Elementary, Pine View Elementary and Stone Elementary.

Orville Hale, 8th District representative, moved to approve this policy on second reading, along with a new student wellness policy. He was supported by Mary Smith, 7th District representative, and the motion was unanimously approved. Policy changes require two readings to take effect.

The grading system policy was approved on first reading following a motion to approve by Hale. Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative, supported the motion, and it was approved with a unanimous vote.

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