Parents concerned over move of fifth-graders

BEAUFORT CO., SC (WTOC) - On Tuesday night, the Beaufort County School Board voted in favor of moving fifth-graders in the Battery Creek cluster to Robert Smalls Middle School instead of staying in the elementary school.

When the school board voted to close Shell Point Elementary in August to save money, they began talking about the plan because they had to have somewhere to put those students.

Last month, the board rejected the proposal to move fifth-graders. But on Tuesday night, they voted in favor of it - filling empty seats at Robert Smalls Middle School.

Next year, the hallways at Robert Smalls Middle School will be filled with fifth-graders from four area elementary schools. It's a decision that has some parents concerned.

"They're 9 and 10 year olds, said parent Cathy Emmert . "They're throwing them in with 13 year olds."

Emmert is a parent who has two children who went to Shell Point Elementary School and will be affected by the change.

"It's forcing them to have more responsibilities and to grow up faster than they would if they stayed in elementary for another year, especially when you're talking about a school that is title one and most of the families are from lower income housing and the kids are probably already forced to grow up faster than they should," she said.

Robert Smalls Middle School Principal Denise Smith said they're going to make sure the fifth graders are separated from the seventh- and eighth-graders.

"They will be in classrooms that are in this area of our building which is three major wings of our school. They have all of their classes back to back. Even my sixth-graders do now like elementary students do," she said. "Currently, our sixth-graders do not cross paths with any other grade level of students. They don't eat lunch with them."

The school can hold almost 1,100 students. With just over 470 students attending, Smith said there is plenty of room to accommodate the 150 to 200 fifth-graders who are expected. Smith said there are a number of options.

"If they have a different start time for fifth- and sixth-graders, they would come to school almost an hour later. They would actually be on an elementary start time schedule. They would have their own buses, their own entrance to come in which is right outside this area here," she said.

She said she realizes this has been an emotional issue and will be talking with parents to help make the transition easier.

"What we will do is certainly have meetings about it so the parents can decide how they want this program, the fifth and sixth grade program to run and we're certainly going to listen intently."

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