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A plan approved 9-2 on Tuesday by the Beaufort County Board of Education will keep rising ninth-graders at H.E. McCracken Middle School instead of sending some students to Hilton Head Island or Battery Creek high schools next fall.
Students in sixth and seventh grades will attend Bluffton Middle School and students in eighth and ninth grades will attend H.E. McCracken Middle School.
The board previously considered reassigning some Bluffton-area students to Hilton Head Island or Battery Creek high schools to alleviate overcrowding at Bluffton High.
Board member Laura Bush, who has represented the Bluffton area for 20 years, said reconfiguring grade levels to keep more students in Bluffton was the best option presented.
"It keeps the community together," she said. "It keeps these young people together, who have known each other for all these years."
Board members Michael Rivers and Joan Deery opposed the plan. Deery said there are empty seats in Bluffton elementary schools that should be used before the board pays to expand Bluffton Middle School.
Keeping ninth-graders at the middle schools requires the district to increase the capacity of Bluffton Middle School from 850 to 1,100 students at a cost of about $1.1 million, superintendent Valerie Truesdale said.
The district designed Bluffton Middle School so it could expand to serve 1,100 students by adding 14 classrooms. The school is scheduled to open next fall.
Truesdale said there is enough money in the school's construction budget -- approved in a 2006 referendum -- to coverexpansion. The board approved the expansion Tuesday.
The board's vote would keep ninth-graders at H.E. McCracken for at least two years. District projections show the school would be over its capacity by the 2013-14 school year.
The board delayed a decision on attendance zones for Beaufort and Battery Creek high schools to a yet-to-be-scheduled meeting.
The boardunanimously approved new attendance boundaries for Bluffton-area elementary schools.
The federal Office for Civil Rights asked the district to re-examine the boundaries drawn to accommodate the future Pritchardville Elementary School and develop options that might improve racial balance. The approved recommendation requires:
The board plan's leaves the Island West neighborhood at Okatie Elementary School, as parents requested during public meetings last week. The administration had recommended students from Island West move to Pritchardville Elementary, which would reduce the percentage of white students at Okatie Elementary.
Nearly 70 percent of students at Okatie are white, and the federal rights office has said that number is too high. Other Bluffton-area elementary schools are between 29 and 52 percent white.
Moving about 40 students living in Island West to Pritchardville Elementary would have reduced Okatie's percentage to about 63 percent. Leaving them at Okatie would put the percentage at about 66 percent, Truesdale said.
Board vice chairman Bob Arundell said he didn't think an entire community should have to leave their school for a difference of only a few percentage points. He said that should be explained to the OCR.
"I'm not quite sure we're accomplishing a whole lot between 66 percent and 63 percent," he said.
<strong>Civil Rights </strong>
The Board of Education unanimously approved an amendment to the school district's desegregation plan, dating back to 1970, to send to the federal Office for Civil for Rights. The plan discusses the consolidation of Whale Branch and Davis elementary schools, Whale Branch Early College High School, rezoning Bluffton-area elementary schools and rezoning approved last year for Shanklin, Broad River, Shell Point and Beaufort elementary schools.