Large maps, laptops and children were brought to the microphones at three public hearings held in the past week regarding the Linganore-Oakdale-Urbana (LOU) school redistricting study.
Affected families filled the three high schools in an effort to show Board of Education members the effect the superintendent's proposed plan would have on their school and personal lives.
One of the biggest arguments against Superintendent Terry Alban’s plan seemed to be that it would move large portions of students to schools that are much farther away than where they currently attend.
“I feel at some point the math got ahead of the common sense. People that live so close to a school can’t go to that school,” one mother said.
She has two children who attend Centerville Elementary School. She explained to school board members that under the proposed plan, her children would be moved to Sugarloaf Elementary School. She said Centerville Elementary is only two-tenths of a mile from her home, whereas Sugarloaf Elementary is 2 miles away.
Several other parents also reported that their children, who now walk to school, would have to take buses to their new school under Alban’s plan, which seems to contradict one of the guidelines outlined in school board policy.
According to the policy, when the school system is developing or adjusting school attendance boundary areas, numerous factors must be considered, including proximity to schools, in order to “maximize walkers and minimize distance or time of bus runs.”
At all three meetings, board members, along with Alban and FCPS Chief Operating Officer Paul Lebo, sat and listened, sometimes taking notes.
The hearings were not meant to be a back-and-forth exchange, but rather an opportunity for board members to hear from the public before making their final decision in October.
“This is a very uncomfortable, unfun process ... but it’s very important and we appreciate you all coming out to express your views,” board President Brad Young said as the first meeting began.
Large segments of communities came to the meetings together in order to show support for one another and make sure their concerns were heard, such as those who live in planning block 54, which sits south of U.S. 40 and is made up of the Tall Oaks, Lee Hill and Merricks neighborhoods in Monrovia. Children in this planning block attend Green Valley Elementary and Windsor Knolls Middle.
Under two redistricting options, which were presented to the public in June, planning block 54 was not affected. Under the superintendent’s plan, and according to a published map, the planning block is now split in two, with one portion going to a new elementary and middle school.
“We are now in the eleventh hour of this redistricting process, and it is only now that our neighborhood has been slated to switch,” said Jennifer Leonard, who lives in the portion of planning block 54 that is being moved. “It’s unfair that our neighborhood hasn’t been afforded the same courtesy of having time to process the new proposal as the neighborhoods affected in previous phases.”
Renee Mills, whose child would be moved from Windsor Knolls Middle to New Market Middle under the superintendent’s plan, agreed.
“I followed all the maps for months and months. We were never affected,” she said. “I'm not worried about the education they will receive; all the schools in our community are fantastic. What I am concerned about is that not enough time was actually given to the edits made to this final proposed plan.”
Patrick Morgan, an FCPS teacher, said he is worried about the social effect of redistricting on students, especially those in high school.
“I've seen children move at the high school level. I’ve seen how incredibly difficult that can be,” Morgan said. “The social connections, in particular, can really be a challenge. ... They now have to be in a new environment, make new friends, make new teammates.”
But despite the overwhelming number of families opposed to the superintendent’s plan, a few did show up in support of it.
“Although my individual children will be affected by the redistricting change ... I am trying to think in broader terms of the option that will best serve the entire community,” said Angela Moxley, a mother from Mount Airy. “Learning to deal with struggles is a reality of life and a good skill to learn from a young age.”
Moxley has a child in elementary school who would be moved to New Market Middle School.
“Learning to meet new people, make new relationships and adapt to new environments is something that will benefit them throughout their lives. ... No option is going to be ideal for anyone, and I'm OK with that,” she said.
In addition to specific community concerns, many speakers asked that current and incoming fifth- and eighth-graders be allowed to stay in their current feeder patterns to be "grandfathered" into the redistricting plan, similar to high school juniors and seniors.
As the Linganore meeting came to a close, Alban reminded everyone that a final decision has still not been made.
“For those of you who said you’ve been engaged from the beginning, stay engaged. ... You will still have time to give [the board] feedback before they vote,” Alban said. “I know that the board will pay careful attention to the feedback that you have all given.”
A final board vote on the redistricting plan is planned for October.