By Al Dozier

 

The District 5 School Board Monday approved a new policy imposing an enrollment freeze on Lake Murray Elementary School to control the fast-growing student population.

The freeze will not affect students currently enrolled, but block new students from enrolling in the school after January 22. Those students will be referred to Ballentine Elementary and Chapin Elementary schools.

Enrollment at Lake Murray Elementary School has spiked over the past several years, from 449 students in 2001 to a current count of 967.

The “freeze” provides an alternative to rezoning and the tedious process of relocating students from their home school. Superintendent Stephen Hefner said many families look at a rezoning as a “break in a covenant” with their local schools.

The district has attempted to address over-crowding with different initiatives.

The district closed the school to CHOICE selections, removed pre-kindergarten programs, placed special education self-contained programs on campuses with greater availability of space, increased magnet offerings and extended options (with transportation) to Ballentine Elementary and Chapin Elementary.

In 2015 the district reassigned fifth graders to Chapin Intermediate School, which now serves fifth and sixth graders. Currently, Lake Murray Elementary only serves students in kindergarten through fourth grade.

The new policy is considered temporary and is likely to be discontinued when a new elementary school opens in about two years. When vacancies become available, students within the school’s service area can apply for admission.

It was approved by a unanimous vote of the board.

“I think this is the fairest way going forwards,” said Board Member Ed White. “It’s important to do this as soon as possible.”

Board Member Larry Haltiwanger agreed it would be a good policy in the short term.

“It’s a temporary solution,” he said.

Kim Murphy, a former board member and frequent critic of the district’s actions, said the board is using faulty enrollment data in its findings on growth. She said her review of the numbers show that the district’s counts are not in line with state data.

She said the board should “do some more homework” before adopting the freeze. In other action the board heard a presentation on a review of the district’s Title IX program on equal opportunity in sports activities. The program targets gender equality in an area where male programs often get more support than female programs.

Darryl Nance, a Greenville County School District athletic director who is a certified master in athletic administration, said District 5 is in great shape overall in its compliance with the Title IX program.

He said the district could make more improvements to girls’ softball facilities to make them more equivalent to the boys’ facilities.

The presentation prompted a discussion on how facility improvements are often achieved through outside contributions from community organizations. The board agreed that outside contributions should be reviewed to make sure some are distributed to female programs.