Education

‘This is tough’: Fort Mill district draws high school attendance lines amid protest

Parents protest Fort Mill SC school decision

A group of parents protested against the new high school attendance lines for Fort Mill schools. The district approved lines for Fort Mill, Nation Ford and Catawba Ridge high schools.
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A group of parents protested against the new high school attendance lines for Fort Mill schools. The district approved lines for Fort Mill, Nation Ford and Catawba Ridge high schools.

Fort Mill high school students now know whether they’ll be Yellow Jackets, Falcons or Copperheads next school year.

The Fort Mill school board Tuesday night approved new high school attendance lines. Catawba Ridge joins Fort Mill and Nation Ford high schools when the site off Fort Mill Parkway opens in August.

The board adopted the district staff’s recommendation, called C-1 option.

Board member Tom Audette said the C-1 option promotes continuity for the entire district by leveling out student counts and avoiding high schools at capacity for as long as possible.

“This is a long-term plan,” he said.

Several dozen Gold Hill Road area residents protested the plan at the district office, ahead of Tuesday night’s meeting. Parents and students said Fort Mill High students shouldn’t have to go to Nation Ford where traffic during rush hours would be difficult, plus some students have had to transition to several schools already in recent years.

A grandmother and Spicewood subdivision resident who drives three children to school each morning said she was “extremely upset” by the traffic headache she anticipates by having to go to Nation Ford. The move causes “extreme and dangerous traffic patterns,” she said.

Another Spicewood parent said “no one really accounted for the traffic that we’re going to have and the way it’s going to be.” She worries for her daughters having to move schools so often, saying we are “all people that need to have friends.”

Spicewood dad Bob Ober spoke about “brand new student drivers” who will struggle with the same traffic parents and grandparents fear. He talked about students who spent seventh grade at Springfield Middle School and eighth grade at Pleasant Knoll Middle School, then ninth grade at Fort Mill High School. Some of them now would go to a fourth school in as many years by switching to Nation Ford.

“Four schools in four years is the epitome of student disruption,” Ober said, “which this school board said they wanted to avoid.”

Another dad asked for students already at Fort Mill High to be grandfathered in and not have to go to Nation Ford. The district previously said rising seniors won’t move.

A Spicewood high school student spoke of her close group of friends being split to attend two schools.

District superintendent Chuck Epps said he has been with the district for eight district line reassignments now across elementary, middle and high school levels. He understands the concerns “that each one of these redraws brings,” he said.

“This is tough,” Epps said. “This is a tough one on everybody.”

Epps said concerns from Spicewood, Knightsbridge and nearby areas aren’t unprecedented.

“It’s not unique,” he said. “I promise you, every one of these reassignment plans has these same issues. That doesn’t make it easy. But it is common.”

The district shares concerns about continuity for students, traffic and other issues. The district also has to project and account for new homes coming within the district.

“The main thing we’ve done in all these redraws is to try to find the plan to promote the most longevity,” Epps said.

Board member Diane Dasher said her son was part of the class that opened Gold Hill Elementary School and in 16 years on the board, she has seen “so much emotion” every time new lines are drawn.

“I know the emotion involved,” she said.

Almost universally, she said, lines work out when they’re set.

“Once the kids get there, almost everyone has been happy,” Dasher said.

Board member Wayne Bouldin said he would like more discussion on grandfathering students, and “why it will or will not work.”

“I know we’ve all crunched numbers, and we’ve all worked through it and have different perspectives,” Bouldin said. “I’d like to hear those perspectives.”

Chairwoman Kristy Spears said there are other neighborhoods “that feel just as passionately” about not leaving the schools where they are now. As for grandfathering, Spears said the numbers of residents today — without potential growth — would be significant for Fort Mill High.

“We would be above capacity again,” she said, “and that’s just considering the crossover students.”

The new lines come after several initial versions.

A public presentation Oct. 1 set out three potential options. Each sent students from Fort Mill and Nation Ford to Catawba Ridge. Two moved students from Fort Mill to Nation Ford. Feedback followed.

Late last month, Epps recommended a new option. A variation of one of those original three, the C-1 option put homes south of Tom Hall Street and east of U.S. 21 Bypass at Catawba Ridge. It also sent students there from an area between U.S. 21 and the western part of Harris Road.

The plan sent students southwest of the Gold Hill and Pleasant roads intersection to Fort Mill. Also, Tega Cay and Baxter students along with property east of S.C. 160 West, including Hamilton Place, and a dip into the Catawba Ridge attendance line from Jones Branch down to Sutton Road.

The plan put Nation Ford lines north of Tom Hall Street and S.C. 160, and east of Pleasant Road. The area includes Springfield, Regent Park and Paradise. Some property west of Pleasant is included, up to the Eppington South and Spicewood subdivisions.

Epps said the district worked to keep neighborhoods zoned together as much as possible, but also that current and future population growth had to be considered in balancing lines he expects to be in place for eight to 10 years before all three schools each hit 2,400-student capacities.

John Marks: jmarks@fortmilltimes.com; @JohnFMTimes
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