The Frederick County Board of Education voted Wednesday night to pass the proposed Linganore-Oakdale-Urbana redistricting plan.
The vote was unanimous among board members, with an abstention from the student member.
The plan, proposed by School Superintendent Terry Alban in early September, will affect almost half of FCPS students.
“Tonight is the end of a process that was a good, fair and open one,” said Brad Young, school board president. “Everybody will be in a great school. ... Students will adjust, and they will get a good education.”
Work on the redistricting plan began this past January and saw numerous drafts, changes, public meetings and board discussion.
According to the school system, redistricting is needed due to two new elementary schools set to open in the next two years.
New attendance boundaries need to be established for those schools — Sugarloaf Elementary School on Stone Barn Drive in Urbana, and Blue Heron Elementary School in the Lake Linganore Hamptons West neighborhood.
Sugarloaf Elementary is expected to open in September 2020, and Blue Heron Elementary in September 2021.
Additionally, redistricting is expected to alleviate crowding in many schools across the county.
The redistricting plan contains some changes made by staff after discussion by board members at their previous meeting. The changes include the modification of planning block 187 to include two houses in a cul-de-sac that were previously siphoned off, keeping planning block 56 in the Urbana High School feeder pattern, and allowing incoming eighth-, 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders to be “grandfathered in.” That means those students will have the option of staying in their current feeder pattern rather than moving to a new school under the redistricting plan.
Many parents had advocated for the grandfathering of eighth- and 10th-graders at the public hearings on the redistricting process held in September.
Paul Lebo, chief operating officer for FCPS, said there will be a Nov. 15 deadline for families of grandfathered students to choose whether or not they wish to remain in their current school.
Public comment was allowed before the vote was taken, and one parent came up in a last-ditch effort to ask that students of planning block 177 remain in their current feeder pattern. This planning block is split in half north and south by Gas House Pike near New Market.
Under Alban’s recommendation, students from this planning block will be moved from Linganore High School into the Oakdale High School feeder pattern and elementary school students will attend the new Blue Heron Elementary.
According to the parent, only three or four students in this planning block would be affected, similarly to planning block 86, on which The News-Post previously reported and which is also along Gas House Pike.
The parent’s efforts paid off as before the vote. Board member Mike Bunitsky added an amendment to his motion to allow students in planning block 177 in addition to those in planning block 86 to request out-of-district waivers to remain in their current schools.
In addition to the vote, FCPS principals Nancy Doll, Tracy Hilliard and Tess Blumenthal presented to the board how their schools will welcome redistricted students. Doll is principal at Linganore High, Hillard is principal of what will be the new Urbana Elementary School, and Blumenthal will be the principal of Sugarloaf Elementary.
To help ease the transition, FCPS and individual schools will put together welcoming activities, such as a “meet the principal” night, school visits for new students, and meetings for parents.
The student visits are expected to take place in the spring and parent meetings in the summer.
“We welcome students every day. ... This is just going to be on a larger scale,” Hillard said. “Every new student will know that they are welcome.”
Students from Linganore High’s Student Voices program also spoke. Student Voices is a program that allows students from around the county to travel to different schools and shadow other students in order to learn about their peers and bridge gaps.
The Linganore High students assured the board that Student Voices will play a critical role in welcoming redistricted students, particularly through shadowing days in the spring.
“They will all be Lancers, and that is what we want to focus on going forward,” said Braden Weinel, a Linganore senior who is part of Student Voices.
This comes after many parents and students spoke at the public hearings and expressed concern about moving from Urbana High to Linganore High. They cited a lack of diversity at Linganore and a less empathetic environment to students with different backgrounds.
Board member Joy Schaefer addressed this personally at the meeting, saying that staff is committed to making sure every school is welcoming.
“I’m usually the only Asian in the room, so I’m familiar with that feeling of not looking like everyone else. ... I know what it’s like to have assumptions made,” Schaefer said. “But I’m uncomfortable with some of the ways some of our schools are [being] painted. ... That can’t reflect a whole school community.”
Bunitsky said he appreciated parent advocacy and pointed out that diversity can be beneficial.
“I’m really hoping that parents recognize that their children are benefiting the most out of this by interacting with other students from different places and backgrounds,” he said.
The redistricting plan will begin to take effect next school year.
Board member Karen Yoho said she knows some parents and students are disappointed with the outcome, but she is confident that everyone will make the plan work.
“I think we’ve really tried to take into account what is best for students,” Yoho said. “Parents are creative, and they will work things out. You can’t imagine right now how you will because it’s an unknown, but I have no doubt you will.”