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School Board opts not to let students shut out of Thaxton Elementary to attend that school

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By Tom Wilmoth

    Despite a request from a parent and a board member, the Bedford County School Board decided Thursday not to allow six students who had been denied a zone transfer request to Thaxton Elementary to attend that school anyway.
    Thaxton Elementary is one of six schools closed this year to zone transfers, except in the case of special exemptions spelled out in board policy. Nine students had requested zone transfers to Thaxton Elementary, but six of those requests were denied by the school administration because they didn't fall under any of the special exceptions.
    Several of those requests were asking that siblings of students already at Thaxton to be allowed to enter kindergarten at the school this year. But school board policy denies that zone transfer request as a reason for a special exception.
    DeAnn Murphy was one of the parents whose child was denied a zone transfer to Thaxton. She said the sibling issue needed to be further considered by the board.
    District 6 school board member Kelly Harmony brought the issue before the board, asking the zone transfer issue for the six students be reconsidered. While not completely full, the current attendance figures have Thaxton Elementary above the 95 percent full threshold. At that point, schools are closed to zone transfers.
    Other schools closed to zone transfers this year include Forest Elementary, Forest Middle School and New London Academy.
    Discussion on the issue included a request to look at the actual school capacities, instead of utilizing a 2002 study of the schools to determine the school attendance thresholds.
    "We set policy for a reason," stated Board Vice Chair Julie Bennington about Harmony's request. "If we want to change a policy, maybe that's what we should be talking about."
    Harmony said the students denied this year at Thaxton got caught up in the sibling policy. "We don't have overcrowding in the Liberty Zone," she said. "I don't think it's going to be a suck-it-up, squeeze-them-in situation."
    The request by Harmony to allow the six students to attend Thaxton this year failed on a 3-4 vote, with Board Chairman Gary Hostutler joining board members Kevin Willis, Bennington and Dr. John Hicks in opposition. Board members Jason Johnson and Richard Downey voted with Harmony.
    School Superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch said that the reality is, "every family who applies for a zone transfer has a pretty good reason for wanting it."
    In other action at Thursday's meeting, the board:
    • approved the lease/purchase of 13 school buses for the upcoming year;
    • agreed to request borrowing $2.3 million to fund maintenance projects. Johnson questioned why the board is borrowing the money, instead of funding it in the budget.
    School System Chief Financial Officer Randy Hagler said this method of funding has been discussed with the supervisors, adding that budget shortfalls have led to this budget item not having money placed in its account.
    The supervisors will have to take action on this request by the school board. The request passed on a 6-1 vote, with Johnson opposing.