BRISTOL, Va. — A widely touted proposal to build an elementary school near the center of Bristol, Virginia, could result in the city’s most segregated student population.
Superintendent Keith Perrigan intends to discuss the proposed new school with the School Board at its regular meeting Monday night. About 65 percent of the city’s African American elementary students would attend the proposed new school, based on a preliminary attendance zone drawing, Perrigan said.
The School Board and City Council recently came to a consensus to consider plans to close two of the city’s oldest elementary schools and consolidate students into a new, centrally located building — if a viable site could be found near the city’s geographic center, which is in the Kingtown area.
The proposed school would have about 430 students, so Perrigan said he tried to draw a relatively square, simple zone that incorporates that number and “makes sense.”
The result was eye-opening.
“We have 111 African American students currently enrolled in our elementary schools and 72 of those students would be living in that zone. So, in turn, that would leave 35 percent to go to the other two schools,” Perrigan said. “That causes some concerns because we want our schools to be as diverse as they possibly can be, but we would be making our schools less diverse.”
The proposed zone is roughly bordered by Commonwealth Avenue to 2nd Street and just south of Washington-Lee Elementary, so students living near Virginia High would not attend the new school.
The city currently operates four elementary schools, and the current proposal would leave Van Pelt on the city’s east end and Stonewall Jackson on the west, with the remaining students to attend the new school.
Perrigan admitted he was a bit surprised when they began delving into the details.
“I expected it to be higher than normal because at Washington-Lee and Highland View, we have higher percentages of African American students — minority students — at those schools. I didn’t realize drawing the line the way we had to would make it so significant,” Perrigan said.
In addition, 90 percent of the students living within the proposed [new school] attendance zone are eligible for free and reduced price lunches because their families live at or below the federal poverty level — although the division now qualifies under a federal program to offer free meals to all students.
“That is one of the data points we would look at when making decisions,” Perrigan said. “That is something I think our board and City Council will have to consider as we consider the location of where we would build a third elementary school.”
The city’s existing attendance zones are far from square, and Perrigan predicted a new school would almost certainly require the School Board to redraw district lines.
The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the School Board office, 220 Lee St.