BOE approves rezoning plan for Mt Laurel students

Published 9:36 pm Thursday, May 5, 2022

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The Shelby County Board of Education on May 5 approved a rezoning plan involving students in the Mt Laurel Elementary School attendance zone.

The plan will shift students in the Mt Laurel attendance zone from Chelsea to Oak Mountain schools for grades 6-12. Students in grades K-5 will continue to attend Mt Laurel Elementary, but will transition to Oak Mountain Middle and Oak Mountain High.

The board’s decision came after members listened to public comments regarding the plan, which Shelby County Schools first shared with parents in March as an option and invited them to provide feedback.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dr. Lewis Brooks said plans to rezone students from Mt Laurel will help to balance student enrollment between the Chelsea and Oak Mountain school attendance zones.

If the city of Chelsea separates from Shelby County Schools and forms its own school system, the transition schedule may be subject to change.

Victoria King, who has a child in the fourth grade at Mt Laurel Elementary and another child in the eighth grade at Chelsea Middle, said she was in favor of her children attending Oak Mountain schools under the rezoning plan.

“My opinions tonight have nothing to do with Chelsea schools,” King said, and referenced the city of Chelsea’s recent approval of a special election July 12 to vote on a property tax that would fund the formation of a city school system. “My daughter has experienced so much anxiety with the back-and-forth of where she will go to high school. I’m hoping that the board will please vote either tonight or soon to send our children to Oak Mountain schools and end all of this uncertainty for so many families.”

KK Swarts, who has a fifth grader at Mt Laurel Elementary, also voiced her support of the rezoning plan.

“I’m fully in support for you guys voting to rezone us to Oak Mountain, specifically because I feel like the Chelsea situation continues to wear on our community,” Swarts said. “The parents are all talking about it, the kids understand what is happening, and it just would seem to relieve that stress to just go ahead and send our children to Oak Mountain. I understand it’s not easy for everyone, but I just wanted to say a lot of the community is fully in support of sending our kids to Oak Mountain.”

The rezoning plan is set to occur in two phases over the next two years and does include an exception for students currently enrolled at Chelsea Middle and Chelsea High School to continue there until they graduate.

Students and their families choosing to continue in the Chelsea school attendance zone must commit to that option and will be required to provide their own transportation starting with the 2023-2024 school year.

Phase 1 of the new rezoning plan will occur in the 2022-2023 school year. Students in grades K-5 will continue to attend Mt Laurel Elementary. Students entering grades 6-12 have the option to enroll in Oak Mountain Middle and Oak Mountain High School, but parents must commit to providing transportation for the entire school year.

Students continuing to attend Chelsea Middle and Chelsea High will have daily bus transportation for that school year.

Phase 2 of the plan will occur during the 2023-2024 school year, when students in grades 6-11 will transition to Oak Mountain schools and the district will begin to provide bus transportation. Students in grades 7-11 opting to stay in Chelsea schools will have to provide their own transportation from that point forward.

Josh McCandless, whose son is a fifth grader at Mt Laurel Elementary, expressed concerns about transportation and asked that the board allow an opportunity for transportation for students being rezoned to Oak Mountain.

“Even if it’s one centralized stop, that would be very convenient and very helpful to myself and many others,” he said.

Johnnie Atkins, whose grandson is a student at Chelsea Middle School, said she hoped to see him continue to attend Chelsea schools.

“I know the area has grown and I understand that, but my family, we have a history with Chelsea,” Atkins said. “We really wanted that to be the history for my grandson, my daughter’s son.”

Parents of students from the Mt Laurel attendance zone entering grades 6-12 in August 2022 are asked to complete a Google form that was emailed to them stating which option they will be choosing in order for the district to finalize staffing for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year.

Included in that email was also information regarding athletic eligibility, participating in various extracurricular activities and course selection. That information will also be posted on the school websites.

Board President Aubrey Miller said Brooks has agreed to have a meeting at a later date with those affected by the rezoning plan.

“This is an extremely complex issue,” Miller said. “The information and feelings that were brought forth tonight by the parents and grandparent in these districts were important to us. Because of the complexity of the matter, it is an issue that is going to continue under discussion.”