The Bradley County Board of Education voted to rezone more than 300 students during a special called meeting Thursday.
Students from Blue Springs will attend either Black Fox Elementary or Waterville Community Elementary.
“We’ve got to zone. We can sit here all night and debate it. ... We have to zone because we have to get Blue Springs kids in a school,” Chairman Troy Weathers said.
Blue Springs Elementary school has been declared unsafe for students by the fire marshal and Bradley County building inspector, according to Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel.
“If our students had been there in that building, we would have fatalities,” Weathers said, referring to damage to the school from the April 27 tornado-producing storms. “Whatever we do, the students’ safety is No. 1.”
McDaniel said students on Lead Mine Valley Road would be moved to Black Fox Elementary School, students from Blue Springs Road would go to Waterville Community Elementary School and students from Dockery would be divided between Black Fox and Waterville. Those who were attending Blue Springs as out-of-zone students will be put back in their zoned school. As a part of this plan, 46 students from Black Fox will be zoned for Prospect, 39 students from Waterville will be zoned for Oak Grove Elementary School and 30 students from Waterville will be zoned for Taylor Elementary school.
Many of these students live close to the previous zone lines for the schools they are moving to, McDaniel said.
Letters will be sent to parents concerning the change.
“Change is hard for anyone, but children are pretty resilient,” McDaniel said.
The rezoning plan was approved with a 6-1 vote. Vickie Beaty voted no.
She said she was not against the rezoning but felt that the school board should have heard from parents in the other communities being affected before making a decision.
How long the new zoning will remain in effect is unknown. All students still have the option to apply to attend an out-of-zone school.
Community member Kristy Hughes asked the board why the students could not be housed at a church until the new school was built. Hughes said members of the community had talked to South Cleveland Church of God and Lee University (old First Baptist property) about providing space for the students. Hughes’ name had been added to the agenda prior to the meeting.
The logistics of finding an appropriate location that meets the fire marshal codes for a public school are difficult, according to McDaniel. McDaniel said using a church requires having an exact date for when students will be back in a school building. This is information the board does not have.
The board and McDaniel said they appreciated First Baptist Church providing space for Michigan Avenue Elementary students for two weeks, but it was still a difficult process.
The process to find property and build a new school could take up to three years.
Simply getting the school back to the way it was is not the best option, according to the school board and McDaniel.
Weathers said the insurance company would only fix the school to the condition before the storm. Exact figures from the school’s insurance company have not come back, yet. But the system has gotten some preliminary numbers, McDaniel said.
“I have wanted in a long-term plan to include a replacement for Blue Springs,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel said the storms make the decision about Blue Springs a top priority.
A piece of property on Blue Springs Road suitable for an elementary school has been found, according to McDaniel.
The school is an older building that cannot meet the needs of students without the use of portable classrooms. The position of the portables requires that students cross a driveway to get to class. Because of the layout of the property, awnings cannot be built to the classrooms to protect students from the weather.
McDaniel said he wanted to bring information about the property to the board at a later date.
A motion was passed for McDaniel to bring a proposal to the board concerning the land.
Zones for Bradley County middle and high schools will not be changed.
Students from Michigan Avenue Elementary will be able to return to the building for class next year after needed repairs make the gymnasium safe again.