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School board seeks additional feedback on student reassignment plans

Officials encourage community input on preliminary plans, say no decision has been made.

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The Auxiliary Committee of the Cumberland County Board of Education on Tuesday discussed feedback from the student reassignment public forums that were held last week and expressed concern that it has received little response from parents or the community.

No action was taken.

The school system conducted three forums throughout the community that aimed to gather input from parents and school staff.

Members of the Auxiliary Committee on Tuesday expressed concerns over the reaction from the public.

The sentiment from board members was that there had not been a lot of input from the community on what the board might do as it moves forward with plans to close T.C. Berrien Elementary School. 

Because of conditions that do not meet the board’s exceptional learning environment requirements and the building requiring expensive upgrades, the 178 students assigned to T.C. Berrien are attending classes at W.T. Brown Elementary School.

No additional forums are scheduled, but the school system’s feedback portal will remain open for at least the next couple of weeks at www.ccs.k12.nc.us in hopes of getting more comments.

To date, 57 people had posted comments on the website.

The timeline calls for the Auxiliary Committee to come forward with a recommendation during its March meeting before it is passed on to the full board.

“For the public’s sake, there’s really no decision yet,” board member Susan Williams said during the meeting. “There are no done deals. The forums are not a farce. The information is out there. We have not made a decision.”

“We are so misunderstood so often,” board member Deanna Jones said. “It just bothers me. Why people have this negative attitude. I’m glad you have all the comments you have.”

Board member Charles McKellar then said, “It’s the environment we live in. It’s very fractured. The whole environment is where – people don’t agree on what day it is.”

Schools Superintendent Marvin Connelly Jr. reiterated that no decision has been made. “No direction has been made by the board,” he said.

Connelly later said the board has not discussed at length a decision to close T.C. Berrien Elementary School.

But McKellar noted that following the public forum that focused on families that would be affected by a closure, “a lot of people walked away with the feeling that the school was closing.”

“The purpose of that meeting was to tell parents what was going on … and why we’re having to relocate them,” Connelly said.

Connelly said early on that parents had to be told there was a problem at the school.

“The board made the decision to temporarily close the building,” he said. “The cost-benefit was not there.”

As a result, the students are being bused to W.T. Brown.

“Now is a different decision the board has to make,” Connelly said. “Reassign the students in some fashion. The board has made no decision.”

Joe Desormeaux, an associate superintendent of Auxiliary Services, said one member of the public suggested that all of Manchester Elementary School be incorporated into W.T. Brown. But he added that the board had not discussed an option regarding the entire student body of Manchester in its reassignment plans.

The board will work with school system spokesman Lindsay Whitley in an attempt to get the word out on the preliminary reassignment options.

At this time, those include: 

– The Ireland Drive Middle School proposal would integrate the 284 students in sixth through eighth grades who live in the student assignment area and attend Ireland Drive Middle School into Douglas Byrd Middle.

– The four proposed plans for the reassignment of T.C. Berrien would be dividing T.C. Berrien between Lucile Souders and Ferguson-Easley elementary schools, dividing T.C. Berrien between Ferguson-Easley, Glendale Acres and Ashley elementary schools and connecting the student assignment area by transferring students from Walker-Spivey Elementary School; dividing T.C. Berrien between Ferguson-Easley, Alma Easom and Vanstory Hills elementary schools and connecting the student assignment area by transferring students from Walker-Spivey to Alma Easom and Vanstory and from Alma Easom and Vanstory to Glendale Acres and Ashley elementary schools; T.C. Berrien is reassigned to W.T. Brown Elementary School, where those students are currently housed.

– The proposed plan for the middle school realignment for T. C. Berrien is that the southeastern-most part of Luther “Nick’’ Jeralds Middle School would be reassigned to R. Max Abbott Middle School, involving seven students.

The three proposed reassignment plans for Lillian Black Elementary School, which has 175 students in kindergarten through fifth grades, are that all of Lillian Black would be reassigned to W.T. Brown. As a result, Lillian Black would be closed; all of Lillian Black and the southern-most portion of Manchester Elementary School would be reassigned to W.T. Brown. Besides the 175 students from Lillian Black, the 78 students from the southern-most portion of Manchester would be reassigned to W.T. Brown; all of the Lillian Black Elementary School district, the southern-most portion of Manchester and T.C. Berrien would be redistricted to W.T. Brown.

In other business, the committee voted to recommend continuing with the mandatory school policy on wearing face masks. The recommendation now goes to the full board for consideration on Feb. 8.

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Cumberland County Board of Education, T.C. Berrien, Lillian Black Elementary School, student reassignment