The Richland 2 school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to redraw some school district lines over the protests, pleas and tearful entreaties of 40 to 50 Lake Carolina Elementary School parents.
The rezoning affects students attending at least four elementary schools but it was the families in the Centennial subdivision of the Lake Carolina planned community off Hard Scrabble Road who packed the meeting at Dent Middle School, sometimes disrupting the proceedings with angry outbursts.
Board chairman Melinda Anderson demanded respectful proceedings, but told the emotional gathering, "Don't think we are sitting here heartless."
Almost all board members said they, too, had experienced rezoning of children or grandchildren.
Those who addressed the board spoke of family and financial sacrifices they had made to ensure their children attended the award-winning Lake Carolina Elementary, a Palmetto's Finest school with a superb reputation. None wanted to attend their newly assigned school, Bridge Creek, which opened just this year.
"LC has been our only family," a tearful Jessie Simon told the board. "Our family is a thousand miles away. It's not about going to a new school and all these fears. It's about our family."
She said she and her Army husband, Capt. Patrick Simon, purchased a home in Lake Carolina with the intention that they would establish roots in Columbia. He has been at Fort Jackson and now commutes to a post in Augusta, and she said he will soon go to Fort Bragg and then Iraq.
Her two school-age daughters, 9 and 6, have only known Lake Carolina, and while her daughter will be able to finish there because she is a rising 5th grader, her youngest will have to go to Bridge Creek.
Jeffrey Salter contended the board did not give parents enough time to gather information about the reassignment and urged the board to postpone the vote.
Advocates for Bridge Creek have pointed out that class size at their 450-student school is considerably lower than at Lake Carolina, which now tops 900 students.
"It really is a fantastic school," Bridge Creek principal Felix Figueroa said Tuesday.
When teachers and parents learned their school was considered inferior by the Lake Carolina parents, he said they did not get mad, but instead told Figueroa, "They really need to come and see us."
Centennial parents had circulated incorrect information that Bridge Creek had only one National Board-certified teacher, compared with 20 at Lake Carolina. That figure is actually nine at Bridge Creek, Figueroa said, with four more awaiting confirmation.
There are at least five teachers who have moved from Lake Carolina to teach at Bridge Creek.
Anthony Davis, president of Bridge Creek's PTO, said he believes even reluctant parents will find a welcoming, dynamic atmosphere at the school.
"It's contagious," said Davis, who noted his wife taught at Lake Carolina and that his daughter attended there before moving to the new school. "At Bridge Creek, you are going to blend in and join in because there are so many opportunities."