School should open by August

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By Ben Bomberger

If all goes as planned — though nothing has so far — the new Grayson Highlands School will open Aug. 9 for the beginning of the 2010-11 school year.
Board members received the update on the school from Maintenance Supervisor Roy Anders during its regular meeting July 12.
Anders said construction of the turning lanes to the school — which were holding up the project — started last week, and the contractors have a projected finishing date of four weeks.
“We still have a few small items on the punch list, but other than that, it’s going good,” Anders said of the project that has been plagued with setbacks and delays since it first broke ground.
Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Thomas further clarified that the contractors “feel confident” they can get the turning lanes complete in four weeks.
If that, along with the flashing school zone lights, are completed, the school will be able to open on Aug. 9.
“At this point, we do not expect to ask the board to delay the opening of school this year,” she told the board. “If we do have some unexpected problem, then we may have to ask the board to consider delaying school, but that’s yet to be seen.”
Plans are for the board to hold a special called meeting on July 26 at 5 p.m. in the Independence Middle School library. At that meeting, Thomas said it should be known whether the school system will need to delay the opening beyond the scheduled date of Aug. 9.
Board Member Gary Burris questioned if school would be delayed throughout the division, or just in the western end of the county.
“We would delay it county-wide,” Thomas said. “If there happened to be a delay, we think it would only be for maybe a week. Hopefully things go smoothly, the turn lanes will be completed in time to open school… that is our expectation.”
Thomas added that the actual contract for the turn lanes is for 45 days, though the contractors feel they can get it done in four weeks.
When asked if the flashing lights signaling a school zone would hold up the project, Anders said he felt the school system should have those ready to go.
Vice Chairman Shannon Holdaway changed topics slightly and asked when residents would be notified of the new bus routes for the new school.
Thomas said the routes are being finalized and she expects parents to receive those in the mail within the next two weeks — giving approximately two weeks before school starts for parents to ask questions.
Continuing Opposition
Though the school in the western end of the county is finally scheduled to open, citizens of the Mount Rogers community continue to show their opposition. Some spoke at the school board meeting Monday.
Sue Blevins lives in Whitetop and is worried about children — such as her granddaughter — getting sick on the buses as they travel across the mountain.
“What’s going to happen when she gets to the school and is so sick she can’t hold her head up?” Blevins asked. “The [new school] is just fine… it’s our children coming across the mountain that’s just not right.”
Blevins then asked the board if they knew how many students would quit school because they had been uprooted. She said Mount Rogers Combined School had been operational since the 1930s and felt that there was no reason to “ruin it now.”
“Would you send your children up the mountain,” Blevins questioned, though the board did not respond, as is typical during a public comment section of the meeting. “No, you wouldn’t. Any of you that have traveled that road would not put little children on a bus up the mountain.”
Blevins added that the board never considered the community and whether or not they wanted the new school. “We’re very disappointed in moving our children across that mountain… It’s just not right for the children.”
Penny Sizemore told the board that, while it has always been said that closing Mount Rogers was a means of saving money, there were plenty of other expenses in Independence, such as the elementary, middle and high schools; numerous sports fields; and associated costs, such as coaches’ pay.
“Our tax dollars pay for these things, too, and yet all we have up there on the mountain is our school,” she said. “And you feel our children are not worth leaving them in that school. You think our children’s lives are not worth it, but they are to us.”
Sizemore added that the costs saved weren’t worth the children getting sick on the school bus and the negative effects it would have on them as they arrived to school sick.
Brenda Walls also spoke in opposition to the new school. She said she represented a large number of taxpayers who were fed up with the “wasteful and unfair taxation.”
Walls mentioned a few concerns, such as why more than $1 million was spent on Mount Rogers, only to close it a few years later. She called the money “ill-spent.”
Additionally, Walls worried about busing the children across the mountain and the hardships on not only the students, but also the parents who have to drive that distance to pick up a sick child and/or a child with a medical appointment.
Walls felt that the inclement weather would wreak havoc on students’ attendance at school and worried about communication efforts if an accident happened or a child had an emergency situation.
Walls then expressed the success rate for Standards of Learning test scores at Mount Rogers and questioned why the county would mess with that.
Walls said the community started a petition against the move and that 689 registered voters had already signed it — and that was just on the western end of the county.
“Everybody up there is very unhappy,” she said.
After asking who could answer her questions and concerns, Holdaway made note that the school system has held 17 different meetings regarding Grayson Highlands School.