The Auxiliary Services Committee of the Cumberland County Board of Education has given its recommendations on the proposed student reassignment plans for students in the T.C. Berrien district while also approving the closure of the school.
Those actions were taken Tuesday morning during committee meetings held in the Cumberland County Educational Resource Center on Elementary Drive.
The full Board of Education will now take up the committee’s recommendations during its next monthly meeting on March 8.
When it came to the proposed reassignment plans for students who would normally attend T.C. Berrien, the committee members opted for plan A. That plan divides the school’s 178 students between Lucile Souders and Ferguson-Easley elementary schools.
That will create a minimal movement of students, the system has said, as only those who normally attend T.C. Berrien are affected by the reassignment.
Board member Carrie Sutton expressed concerns about a lack of diversity in the student body should the board go with plan A. Judy Musgrave, another board member, said she was for diversity, too.
“I can understand concerns about diversity,” board member Charles McKellar said. “The diversity that we have is mainly economic.”
Board member Donna Vann said when she reviewed plan A, she became concerned about the students who have been together.
“Separating them that much is not fair to them,” Vann said. “Keeping as many children together as much as we can – it’s more cost-effective and better for the kids.”
McKellar then made the motion to accept plan A, which was seconded by Chairman Greg West.
The vote was 3-1, with Jones casting the lone opposing vote.
In 2021, T.C. Berrien students were moved to William T. Brown Elementary School in Spring Lake after the Board of Education decided that renovations to Berrien would be too costly.
Joe Desormeaux, the associate superintendent for Auxiliary Services, previously told the board that the school was closed to students because of foundation issues.
In January, public forums were held in three locations of the school district to gather input on the proposed reassignment plans from parents, teachers and staff. District leaders shared four proposed preliminary student reassignment plans at that time.
The reassignments would get underway this fall.
As for the proposed plans for the reassignment of Lillian Black students, committee members were mixed, and their vote ended in a 2-2 tie.
“It is very old,” board member Alicia Chisolm said, “but it is a historical school.”
Board member Susan Williams added, “I don’t think we’re in the business of tearing buildings down.”
“We have no plans to tear that building down,” Superintendent Marvin Connelly Jr. said.
As a result of the tie, the full board will now consider both options for that proposed reassignment.
Those options include plan A, where all of Lillian Black is reassigned to W.T. Brown, and plan B, where all of Lillian Black and the southernmost portion of Manchester Elementary School are reassigned to W.T. Brown.
The committee also voted 4-0 on the proposal for Ireland Drive Middle School. According to the school system, 284 students live in the student assignment area and attend Ireland Drive in grades 6-8. As proposed, the Ireland Drive facility will become part of Douglas Byrd Middle School.
T.C. Berrien closure
The committee voted 4-0 to close T.C. Berrien. In March 2021, the Board of Education approved an option to initiate the closure process for the school.
In Tuesday's meeting, Vann said the teachers and staff at T.C. Berrien need to be reassured that they won’t be demoted or suffer a loss in pay.
“It is scary,” Williams said.
In other action, the Policy Committee voted 3-1 to recommend revising the board’s face coverings policy. Face masks are now optional for students, teachers and staff in the district’s public schools.
Effective Feb. 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no longer requires students to wear masks on buses or vans operated by public school systems. At their discretion, school systems may choose to require that people wear masks on buses or vans.
Sutton said the board, in reversing its mandatory face mask policy into an optional policy over the last couple of months, did not abide by CDC or Cumberland County Health Department recommendations.
“Here again,” Sutton said, “the hypocrisy is just stifling. The policy doesn’t sit well with me.”
In accordance with the new guidance from the CDC, masks are now recommended but are not required to be worn by students and employees who ride on buses or vans operated by the school system.
Cumberland County currently has high community transmission rates – a 16.1% case positivity rate as of Feb. 28, the system said.
Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.