Upper peninsula may get clearer school lines

Kamya Anderson uses the raised garden beds at Sanders-Clyde Elementary to “play ballet” during an after-school program. 

When Lathronia Johnson moved her family a few blocks north from the East Side to the Bridgeview Village apartment complex in December, she had no idea her 16-year-old son Jameek would have to transfer from Burke High School to North Charleston High.

Bridgeview Village sits within Charleston city limits, just south of Magnolia Cemetery in the upper peninsula. So why was the district sending Jameek 6 miles up the road to North Charleston when Burke was just 21/2 miles away? She called the district office to find out.

“I didn’t know that until I went to put him back in school,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Wow, what are y’all doing?’ And they said, ‘Oh, they zoned that for North Charleston,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ ”

In order to improve bus-route efficiency and clear up confusion among families like the Johnsons, the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees voted this month to recommend redrawing attendance lines so that they align with the municipal border between Charleston and North Charleston. The recommendation came after the district received letters of support for the measure from the mayors of both cities.

State lawmakers will ultimately decide whether to redraw the line after they reconvene for the next legislative session in January. Under the terms of the 1967 Act of Consolidation that created the Charleston County School District in an attempt to end segregation and unequal school funding, only the state Legislature can adjust constituent district lines in the county.

State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said there was “little conversation” about the proposal among the Charleston delegation so far, but that lawmakers generally meet with school district officials in December for a “wish-list session.”

Currently, 175 students in Charleston neighborhoods including Bridgeview Village and Rosemont are part of Constituent District 4, which means they are zoned for North Charleston schools: Chicora Elementary, Morningside Middle and North Charleston High. The discrepancy between the school attendance boundary and the city boundary comes from years of northward annexation by the city of Charleston, during which the district did not update its constituent district map to reflect the change.

Of the 175 students living in the overlap between Charleston and District 4, a district spokesman said 110 have already successfully applied for transfers to attend schools in downtown District 20. The decision to approve transfers is up to constituent district boards.

Fran Clasby, chairman of the District 20 Constituent Board, said his board often approves transfers for families in the affected area who can prove it’s a hardship for their children to go to school in North Charleston, but some families never apply because they don’t want to go through the hassle.

“It’s paperwork and a trial,” Clasby said.

The District 4 and 20 boards both passed resolutions supporting the redrawing of the attendance lines.

“It’s going to reunite the communities,” Clasby said. “We’ll bring the Neck Area communities back into the city so they won’t have to apply for a transfer.”

Kevin Lewis knows about living in a divided neighborhood. Growing up in Rosemont, a predominately black community in the industrial Neck Area, he said he played basketball with his friends on East Side courts but traveled to North Charleston for high school, where he graduated from North Charleston High in 1999.

The neighborhood has been divided for as long as he can remember, with some families opting to send their kids to Burke High after moving north from downtown to Rosemont. “We didn’t have to go to North Charleston, but if we wanted to we could,” Lewis said.

Charleston County School Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats said she doesn’t expect school attendance numbers to change radically if the lines are revised.

“My sense is there are very few to no children in those areas not in the school they want to be in,” Coats said.

According to Coats, if a student is rezoned but wishes to stay in their current school, they will be allowed to stay until they finish there.

“The purpose of this is convenience,” Bohn Coats said, “not disruption.”

Reach Paul Bowers at (843) 937-5546 or twitter.com/paul_bowers.

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