Columbia neighborhood avoids elementary school change

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COLUMBIA - While hundreds of Columbia elementary school students would change schools under a boundary change proposal, one neighborhood fought back.

A school committee worked on changing boundaries since last fall to incorporate a new elementary school, Beulah Ralph.

The proposed changes would relocate 684 students, 19 percent, attending Rock Bridge, Mill Creek, Paxton Keeley, Fairview, Grant and Russell Boulevard.

That number could have been higher, but one neighborhood now assigned to Fairview fought back. Families in the Chapel Hill neighborhood received an email in late February telling them their kids would move to Russell Boulevard Elementary School in two years.

Parents of the neighborhood said they were concerned the change would take away from their "neighborhood" elementary school. Russell is two miles from their neighborhood, an extra mile further than Fairview.

"I think the kids would literally be bussed past Fairview to go to Russell, and then the fact that it's across Stadium Boulevard would prevent them from ever being able to walk or ride bike or anything like that," one Chapel Hill parent, Myia McKenna Custer, said.

Chapel Hill parents wrote letters to the school board and spoke at public forums pleading their case. Their voices were heard and the committee made a change to the proposal that would keep those students in Fairview.

Committee member Tom Stone said the purpose of the initial proposal was to group Fairview Elementary students with other students who would eventually attend the same middle school.

"We had to make a decision and we went with the boundary. Chapel Hill is the boundary for middle school," Stone said.

Stone says the size of the Chapel Hill neighborhood played a role in the committee's proposal allowing the students to stay at Fairview. 

"There's only 16 students in that neighborhood and so it wasn't a burden for the school to handle those 16," Stone said.

The Board of Education will adopt a plan for new boundaries at the April 13 meeting. The changes will take effect in the 2016-2017 school year.