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South Hills redistricting has parents pushing for policy change

Click here to see a map of the proposed district change.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While it has not yet been decided how -- or if -- South Hills elementary schools will be redistricted, many parents think the county's current transfer policy is at the heart of the problem.

Under Kanawha County Board of Education code, families who move to a different attendance zone may elect to maintain residency in their student's original school.

Upon approval, a student can be deemed a resident of that school's attendance area from then on. Annual renewal of transfer applications is not required.

"In this case, that means anyone that was transferred from an outside school district now has a guaranteed seat, while everyone else is subject to redistricting," said Aaron Alexander, chairman of the Local School Improvement Council and a parent of a student at Overbrook Elementary.

The board is looking into redistricting scenarios after Overbook parents complained that students were surpassing capacity in classrooms and forced to share textbooks and wait in long lunch lines.

Last week, more than 60 parents met with Kanawha County officials to discuss ways that neighboring schools, Kenna and Holz, could pick up some of the surplus.

Though parents are torn on whether a gradual phase-in approach or an all-about change next school year would benefit the children the most, they have reached a consensus on a need for policy reform, Alexander said.

"The only consensus we've reached is that the issue of transfers needs to be reviewed before we do anything. We need to send all of the transfer students back to their residential addresses and recount the numbers," he said.

"When they drew these lines for redistricting, transfer students were counted as in the district, but they can't be because they don't actually live within those lines."

The redistricting proposal would move Overbrook students living at Upper and Lower Ridgeway roads, Lindy Road, Loudon Heights Road and nearby areas to Holz, and residents of Greystone Road, Lakeview Road and Rolling Hills Circle to Kenna.

Assistant Superintendent Jane Roberts told parents at last week's meeting that changing the transfer policy would have little effect on overcrowding.

Thirty-one students currently enrolled at Overbrook don't live in the district, with fewer than 10 of those living in surrounding districts, according to the Kanawha County Schools' transportation department.

But that's not the point, Alexander said.

"We don't know if it will make a difference, but the integrity of the policy is in question if you don't get students back to their district where they belong," he said. "We need to talk about the process -- there's a bigger picture here."

Overcrowded schools in the South Hills area is nothing new. Ruthlawn Elementary parents went to the board with similar concerns this month, and John Adams Middle School is crammed despite the use of three portable classrooms.

The county also had to stop allowing transfers into George Washington High School.

"There has to be a larger problem. Something must be going on if John Adams and George Washington are bursting at the seams too," Alexander said. "Instead of saying 'let's fix this particular issue,' we should look at the overall landscape. This goes beyond one elementary school."

Roberts said the board is reviewing parents' questions and suggestions and expects to formally address the issue at a public meeting in November.

The affected children and their families have always been at the forefront of the problem, and parent input is taken seriously, Roberts said.

"I don't think anyone wants to force anyone to leave who is already there. You always have to involve the community in a decision like this because redistricting is an emotional issue, and if we do decide to do it, we want to do it the right way," she said. "It is truly a collaborative process and, ultimately, the board will vote on a decision."

Overbrook's PTO president, Eugenie Taylor, said many parents are just thankful that the issue is finally being addressed, regardless of the details.

"The school is really suffering from this overcrowding, and we appreciate being heard. The school board has let us parents lead the discussion, and the neighboring schools have been remarkably willing and generous so far," she said. "Everyone is working together to be part of the solution."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at Mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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