About 10 people spoke or submitted comments to Wednesday’s public hearing on the closure of Sabillasville Elementary School, echoing claims from the community that not enough notice had been given that the hearing was taking place.
“The reason I’m here is because I saw a sign on a tree,” said Deb Spalding, a Sabillasville community member. “There’s something not right about how communication is taking place.”
Alisha Yocum, president of the Sabillasville Elementary’s Parent Teacher Organization, shared similar concerns.
“We were discouraged to find that the same lack of communication and procedures were once again followed this time...we didn’t receive information on how the hearing would work until last Thursday, giving us essentially five days to inform our community during a pandemic — not an easy task,” she said.
Wednesday’s public hearing was held after the Frederick County Board of Education revoked its decision to close the school at the end of this school year.
The board originally voted in November to close the school due to dwindling enrollment and high costs associated with the continued operation of the building. Since the board began discussing the future of Sabillasville Elementary in early 2020, the small community has fought to keep the school open.
And the fight continued on Wednesday. Many speakers alluded to the high quality of education that students receive at Sabillasville Elementary because of its small size and rural location.
“It shouldn’t be that you’re talking about closing [the school], it should be that you’re talking about getting more kids there because of the quality [of education] that they receive,” Spalding said.
Others talked about the minimal impact the school has on the larger FCPS system.
“We have the lowest growth rate probably in the county for the last 20 years ... you don’t have overcrowded schools in Thurmont or Sabillasville,” said Marty Burns, former mayor of Thurmont.
And others said closing the school after a year of virtual and hybrid learning would have a severe impact on students.
“Please try to explain to [students] why they’re losing their precious school, their safe haven, their coveted place of learning, and then explain to them why they haven’t been to school for the last few months,” said Kelsey Norris, a parent of Sabillasville Elementary students. “Once you finish explaining that to them, I ask you to explain to them why it is the people that they’re supposed to trust so much in their journey of learning are the ones who want to shut their school down.”
Emma Sparkman, a current Sabillasville Elementary student, said closing the school would cause her and her classmates more stress.
“If you close the school this year and the charter school is approved, that would mean we would have to change schools for one year. That is a lot of change for us students. Lastly, this pandemic has been a lot for us to handle as kids. I don’t think that more change would make anything better,” she said.
Wednesday’s public hearing came about after complaints from the community that the original process of closing the school was handled poorly. There has also been debate over whether FCPS followed protocol and allotted specific time for a public hearing on the issue last year as per Board Policy 200.
Board President Jay Mason previously told the News-Post that the board was made aware of these specific concerns related to a lack of a public hearing.
“In discussing this as a board, we felt it was important that the community know that the board took this concern seriously. The [public hearing in April] has been scheduled for the purpose of considering the adoption of a board resolution to address this matter,” he said.
Now that a hearing has been held, the board will make a final decision regarding the school’s future on April 21.
Many speakers at the public hearing pleaded with the board to keep the school open.
At the same time, many seemed to recognize that the possibility of the board completely reversing its decision is slim. Therefore, many asked that board members vote for a compromise—keep the school open for one more year while the community pursues converting Sabillasville Elementary into a charter school.
The community decided to submit a charter application earlier this year in a last-ditch effort to save the school and prevent local students from having to travel to Thurmont for their education.
The charter application proposes that the school be turned into a public charter school that would still fall under the umbrella of FCPS but would deliver a classical education—similar to the Frederick County Classical Charter School—with a focus on environmental and agriculture studies.
According to Yocum, the opening of a charter school would not be possible until at least 2022 due to delays in the process caused by COVID-19.
“If a decision is made to close the school for 2021-2022, our kids would have to go on long bus rides to a brand-new, much bigger school for a whole year. A year is a long time in the life of an elementary school student,” she said.
She encouraged the board to work with the community to come up with a solution that would benefit all.
“Let’s sit down at the table and work together to offer our community and the rest of Frederick County students a unique opportunity to keep what is working at Sabillasville and grow that strong foundation into expanded educational opportunities for all,” Yocum said.