Board of Education meeting

Thurmont Town Commissioner Marty Burns speaks in support of Sabillasville Elementary School at a Board of Education meeting Wednesday evening. Behind him are supporters of the school.

At the end of Wednesday night’s Frederick County Board of Education meeting, parents and others from the Sabillasville community were celebrating.

“We did it,” one parent exclaimed to another. Some were hugging, others were high-fiving.

Wednesday night was a moment of relief and temporary victory for many who had spent the last month speaking at every available meeting, begging school officials to keep their beloved elementary school open.

The board voted unanimously to extend the conversation on the topic of closing Sabillasville Elementary School until December 2020 in order explore more options and hear more input from the community.

The school will remain open for the 2020-2021 school year, but its future after that remains uncertain.

The topic of closing Sabillasville was first brought up at a January Board of Education meeting when FCPS staff alerted board members to the school’s low enrollment numbers.

Currently, 78 students attend the school. Its capacity is 160.

Many in the community understand the low enrollment but feel there are ways to use the open space in the school and bring in more students.

It was these possibilities — of how else the school be used — that led to the board’s unexpected vote.

Board member Liz Barrett was the first to suggest exploring ways to keep the school open. She said she felt constrained by having to decide by March 25 — which was the original deadline for the board to make a final decision on whether or not to close Sabillasville Elementary.

“We can talk about all the cant’s, but we haven’t explored all the cans here yet,” Barrett said. “I like the idea of considering how we can actually use the space and this opportunity to create a more equitable opportunity for all the kids in north county.”

Board President Brad Young agreed and said he had been trying to think outside the box on ways to bring more programming to the school to increase enrollment. He added, though, that the challenge is whether or not parents from other parts of the county would take their children to Sabillasville for programming.

School Superintendent Terry Alban agreed.

“We saw the same thing with the JROTC [Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps] program at Linganore [High School]. It was not happening because people did not want to provide their own transportation to a school on the east side of the county,” Alban said. “When we moved it to [Gov. Thomas Johnson High School] and we could provide transportation ... we now have many many more students taking advantage of it.”

Expanding educational programs in general comes at a price, and even if a program were brought to Sabillasville Elementary, it wouldn’t solve the problem of the low enrollment.

Barrett suggested working with the county and other municipal governments to come up with ways to use the school building that aren’t necessarily educational with the intent of keeping students enrolled until the numbers become too low to be viable.

She motioned for that action to be taken, which led to a 6-to-1 vote in favor. Board member Michael Bunitsky voted in opposition.

Young then motioned that the deadline for making a decision on the school be delayed until the end of the year in order to have conversations regarding potential uses for the school and to allow more community input and collaboration.

Kelsey Norris, a parent of a student at Sabillasville, said this is what the community has wanted from the beginning.

“We know there’s a lot of work ahead of us, but ... this is what we wanted — a chance to work with them,” Norris said. “And hopefully we do get to continue to work hand in hand with them to find a solution.”

Before formally voting, however, Young made the point that if viable solutions are not found by December, there is a possibility the school will be closed.

“I ask you folks that if we can’t come up with [solutions] in the end, then you say, ‘OK, we’ve done what we can,’” Young told the audience.

Alban said she feels the board took the right direction for this moment in time.

“I think it was a good place to land,” Alban said, adding that she is open to looking at other ways to keep the school open.

“The community gave us some options. Some of them aren’t going to work. I’m hoping we’ll find some more out there,” she said.

Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter: @katrynajill.

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