Board approves Pioneer zoning

Published 9:54 pm Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Suffolk School Board on Thursday approved a new plan to redistrict the city’s elementary schools in preparation for the addition of Pioneer Elementary School in the fall.

Most of the students in the new plan will transfer from Southwestern Elementary, which will close at the end of this school year. But the plan also takes in 16 students from Booker T. Washington Elementary School, who live in the old Robertson Elementary School zone, as well as 23 from Elephant’s Fork Elementary School, who live between Holland Road and Indian Trail.

“This is a plan we can agree to that the Department of Justice says they can agree to,” said Terry Napier, director of facilities and planning for the school system.

Email newsletter signup

The board had previously been scheduled to vote on a plan in March but delayed its decision after the U.S. Department of Justice intervened, saying the plans under consideration would have made Pioneer a “racially identifiable white school.”

The plan actually increases Pioneer’s percentage of white students from the current makeup of Southwestern, which currently has 71 percent white students. The plan for Pioneer includes 72 percent white students, 22 percent black and six percent other.

However, the new plan also includes a “majority to minority transfer program.” Under the program, a black student assigned to Booker T. Washington Elementary School, which would now be 90 percent black, could request to be reassigned to Pioneer. Conversely, white students assigned to Pioneer could request to attend Booker T. Washington.

In the second and third years of the plan, Mack Benn Jr. and Elephant’s Fork elementary schools, also majority black, would be phased into the transfer program.

The school district will be required to provide free transportation for those students who opt in. Those students would also be given the opportunity to remain at the same elementary school until they complete fifth grade, and then attend Forest Glen Middle School along with their elementary classmates if they choose.

“It’s a simple concept,” Napier said of the transfer program. “We’ll see how simple it is to implement.”

A map of the new attendance zone is posted on the school division’s website,