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Bemidj School District: Six students to return to neighborhood schools

The Bemidji School District has notified six families that their children who are currently third-graders at Horace May Elementary School will return to their neighborhood schools next fall.

The six students all currently live outside the school's attendance area.

As part of budget cuts made by the Bemidji School Board this spring, fourth grade at Horace May will be reduced from three sections to two sections next fall.

The board made the cut as part of the district paring down its budget by $2 million for the 2009-10 school year.

At the elementary level, the board also cut one section of fifth grade at Northern Elementary School and one section at Central Elementary School, which will be either in kindergarten or first grade. Additionally, the board reduced allied arts at the elementary level by 0.70 full-time-equivalent staff.

When considering the cut in the fourth grade at Horace May at an April 20 meeting, the board discussed the possibility of having students who are not attending school in their attendance area to return to their neighborhood schools.

Superintendent Jim Hess said in an interview this week that, after the board's decision to move forward with the cut at Horace May, he directed Principal Bill Burwell to notify the six affected families that their current third-graders will return to their neighborhood schools.

Scott Peterson, whose daughter Haley is a third-grader at Horace May and is affected by the move, shared his disappointment as he addressed the board at its Monday afternoon meeting. Peterson, who also is a third-grade teacher at Horace May, told the board not to forget the district goal that includes a "welcoming environment."

Haley, who also addressed the board, said she wants to stay at Horace May because she is a Huskie, which is the school's mascot, and "that's where I belong."

Jamie Lindgren, whose son also is affected, said much of his support comes from the school.

Hess said the district receives special requests from parents who wish to have their children attend a school outside their attendance area.

"And for the most part, we honor those requests, if we have the space available," he said.

However, he said the district won't allow for overcrowding at schools due to these requests.

If the six students didn't leave Horace May, the district projects the two fourth-grade classes at the school next fall would have 34-35 students.

"Clearly that's too many elementary children in a classroom," Hess said.

He said the projections include two-four students in special education who are integrated into classes at Horace May and will be in fourth grade next year.

Hess said the decision to return students to their neighborhood schools is not districtwide. He said the decision only affects the six students at Horace May.

Hess said it's unknown at this time if the move would be lifted for the 2010-11 school year.

"It's all based on space and availability," he said.

Hess said making adjustments to schools for children is difficult and the district doesn't want to diminish the connection students and families have to a school.

However, he said, the district's top priority for education at a school are the students in the attendance area. Y