TAZEWELL, Va. — Elementary school students in Tazewell face a new reality in August after the school board voted to merge North Tazewell and Tazewell elementary schools.

After hearing from five citizens during a public comment session Monday night, the Tazewell County School Board voted 4-0 to merge the two schools. Students in pre-K through 2nd grade will attend school at the North Tazewell facility and 3rd through 5th grade students will attend school at Tazewell.

The two buildings are less than two miles apart but have operated as separate elementary schools for over 50 years. The vote came after parents, grandparents and one employee questioned why the change was being made, and why now.

Chris Kiser, a young parent from Thompson Valley asked the board to move North Tazewell students to Tazewell, and turn North Tazewell to a branch of the Tazewell County Career and Technical Center.

Gratton resident Debbie Gentry, a grandmother of eight, questioned the board heavily about the move and said she had not received sufficient answers. She questioned class sizes, whether or not teachers would lose jobs, was there a shortage of bus drivers and what would happen to resource teachers.

“I feel like we are being forced to do this,” Gentry said.

Heather Johnson said she was disappointed how the situation was handled.

“It makes me wonder what else will be done without proper notification to parents and teachers,” she said.

Johnson said her youngest would enter kindergarten this coming year and if the change was made she would not have her big brother with her.

After the public comment session Superintendent of Schools Chris Stacy and board members responded with a list of pros and cons.

The board made the decision based on the success with a similar setup in Bluefield between Dudley Primary and Graham Intermediate.

Stacy said free breakfast and lunch would continue for all students at both schools, no jobs would be affected by the change and the social and emotional benefits would improve with students being closer in age.

Board member Irene Mullins said the friend groups will form in kindergarten rather than middle school.

“These children will be together from kindergarten to senior year, rather than 6th grade to senior year,” Mullins said.

The change was originally discussed last year, but the board held off on making the change because they were dealing with budget problems and had to close to other schools.

Mullins said she understood that change is difficult, but that much of the planning and packing has already been done. The change will take effect at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year in August.

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