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The recent review of policies and procedures in the days following the tragic death of a 6-year-old Grady County student on his way to school has resulted in the Grady County Board of Education taking a look at how the district lines for the county’s schools are drawn.
The current district lines were drawn to insure racial equality at county schools, but in some cases, that means students are bused to schools farther away from their homes and past schools that are closer by.
“It will be a big job to tackle, but at some point it is the right thing to do,” Grady County School Superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard said Tuesday night.
Some students who live southwest of Southside Elementary School are in the Eastside Elementary School district as are students from south Grady County communities such as Beachton, while residents of the Calvary and Reno area are just as close to Whigham Elementary School, but are bused to Southside Elementary School, according to school officials.
“If we’re not violating any laws by redistricting, then it makes sense to do it,” board member Jeff Worsham said.
Board member Gerald Goosby asked if the superintendent was suggesting a countywide redistricting effort. Dr. Gilliard said that the system would have to pay particular attention to any alterations to the Northside Elementary School District since that school was near its building’s capacity.
New software purchased for the school system’s transportation department can be used to plot the addresses of each and every student in the system, according to Dr. Gilliard. School officials would use that data to develop new district lines.
“If we do it, you will still have parents that want their children to go to a particular school. We’ll just have look at them on a case by case basis,” Worsham said.
Dr. Gilliard said internal discussions with his administration team resulted in a proposal that students entering the fifth grade could be allowed to complete school at the school where he or she had attended for the first four years of school.
“I don’t want this to be a big mess like it has been in some metro school district, but I think we are small enough that will not happen,” the superintendent said.
Board member Goosby said it would be key to educate the public about what was being done and to explain why it was being done in order to gain public support for any future changes.
“I don’t know if we have enough time to get everything ready by August, but it seems too far off to wait another year,” Dr. Gilliard said.
Board members Derrick Majors and Goosby urged the superintendent not to rush the revisions. “As we get into it, we will see more of what we are dealing with. If we rush, we could get in trouble,” Majors said.
Board member John White suggested the board might consider allowing time to schedule public hearings on the proposed changes once they are formulated.
“Per the board’s direction tonight, we will begin looking at district lines system wide. We have some schools that are at capacity and some that could take additional students. We will work to balance the schools as much as possible taking into consideration the amount of space at each school, demographics, and distance to the school. Currently, we have some students who ride a bus past a school to get to the other one. Also, in two instances, I know we send two buses down a street because the left side goes to one school and the right side goes to another. I think we can do a better job with our bus routes if we adjust district lines. Once we have gathered the necessary information, we will hold community meetings to gather input from parents,” Dr. Gilliard told The Messenger.