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Board should put kids' best interest first

October 3, 2012
The Inter-Mountain

The Barbour County Board of Education missed the mark with its recent vote to uphold a forced transfer decision for a kindergarten student at Junior Elementary School.

At issue is the fact three students - all of whom live outside the Junior Elementary zone - contributed to class size exceeding the maximum number of students allowed per teacher by one pupil. Costs are associated with having the increased class size, and it's been reported the school district would have to pay the kindergarten teacher $2,200 in overage fees for the extra student.

Of the three students who attend the school out of zone, one is the child of Junior Elementary Principal Jennifer Swift. The other two are the individual children of Joe and Letisha Bolyard and Pat Miller, all three of whom have spoken publicly about this issue.

In a letter dated Feb. 28 to the Bolyard and Miller families, Swift reminded them of the need to complete the necessary in-county, out-of-zone student request forms. Swift indicated in the letter that she - the principal of the school - would need to sign the forms, in accordance with policy. The paperwork was available March 5, but in the letter Swift told parents she would not be able to sign their forms until March 6.

The other families allege Swift completed her child's form on March 5 and signed as principal, thus assuring her child would be allowed to attend Junior Elementary, presumably because her paperwork was in first.

Regardless of whether that scenario is true, we have to question why administrators allowed school to begin with a class size that was in excess of the maximum allowable limits under state code.

Aug. 17 was the first day of classes in Barbour County. Surely the school had to know the number of students who were enrolled at that time. We maintain the issue should have been addressed prior to the start of the school year. To allow students, especially those entering kindergarten, to begin classes and then force a change nearly a month later is unfair to all concerned.

While we respect the school's and the board's right to handle matters of this nature, it is the way in which it was done that gets a failing grade in our book.

The overcrowding problem eventually was decided by placing only two of the out-of-zone students' names in a hat for a random drawing that occurred Sept. 12. It's been reported Swift's child was excluded from this procedure. The name of the child pulled from the hat then was determined as the student who would receive a forced transfer to another school.

That child was the Bolyards' daughter, who was told she would have to immediately begin attending Belington Elementary, the school zone in which she lives. Both the Bolyard and Miller children have older siblings who attend Junior Elementary.

Despite the fact that these two families adamantly opposed the process by which this transfer was done, the board just last week upheld the Sept 12 decision from the "random" drawing. The school board members voted against repealing the decision even after Joe Bolyard repeatedly offered to personally pay the $2,200 overage fee.

Again, we understand that a school district cannot accommodate all out-of-zone or even out-of-district requests. However, the time and place for dealing with these issues is long before the start of the school year. Forcibly separating a young child - or really a child of any age - from an established learning environment is tantamount to cruel. So, too, is making that child leave friends and siblings behind.

We would encourage the school board to honor the parents' request to revisit this issue once again. Perhaps this time members will find it in their hearts to resolve this situation with the best interest of all children involved in mind. That certainly hasn't appeared to be the case thus far, and it sets a very poor example for the children the district should be trying hard to educate rather than alienate.



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