Sabillasville Elementary School seems to have nine lives.
The school was saved from closure once again on Wednesday when the Frederick County Board of Education voted to keep it open for another school year.
The move to keep the doors open comes with several stipulations, though. First, a three-member committee consisting of board members will work with the Sabillasville community and explore all possible alternatives to closing the school. Second, the appointed committee will review the board’s policies and regulations regarding school closures and suggest improvements or changes if needed. Third, Sabillasville Elementary will become an open enrollment school for the 2021-2022 school year, meaning any student who currently attends an over-capacity FCPS elementary school may choose to attend Sabillasville Elementary for the next school year.
Whether transportation will be provided to these students is yet to be determined.
The motion with all its requirements was put forth by board member Liz Barrett.
“Sabillasville is unique given its geographic location and importance in the community,” Barrett said. “I also think that our board, because of COVID and other reasons, had failures with communication, with application of policy and with our procedures in dealing with Sabillasville, and I don’t think that this is an issue where we should have any room for error or perception of error in our community.”
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. It then rescinded its decision in March due to complaints from the community regarding a lack of public hearings and communication. Since the board began discussing the future of Sabillasville Elementary in early 2020, the small community has fought to keep the school open.
Despite approving Wednesday’s motion to keep the school open another year, some board members still seemed conflicted.
Board member Brad Young said, “The struggle is that, based on the formulas that we have, we’re getting to the point where another year — if the enrollment [decline] continues — they’re going to get allocated two teachers for [kindergarten] through five, and the amount of extra staff that they have will be limited as well, and so educationally, is that the best for those students? Probably not.”
Board President Jay Mason opposed the motion.
“What’s to say we come back next year and give it one more year, one more year. It leaves those families in limbo. We need to give people definitive answers and make decisions, not just say one more year, one more year,” Mason said.
Mason also had concerns about making such a decision without considering its potential budget implications.
“I think we’re working backward, and I think that sets us back as a school system,” Mason said. “I think we have to have our research done first, have staff look at all possibilities and then present it to the board and let us make an educated decision. I think we’re guessing right now that some of our community members are going to ... have their students [attend] Sabillasville.”
FCPS Superintendent Terry Alban pointed out during the board’s discussion that providing transportation for any FCPS student who wishes to attend Sabillasville Elementary in the fall would not only need to be worked into the budget but would also pose some equity questions.
“We have open enrollment options, people can ask for out-of-district transfers, but we have never provided transportation, so if you provide transportation here, you make an exception,” she said. “The board, several years ago, had a lot of testimony from a grandparent whose child attends the [International Baccalaureate] Academy at Urbana [High School] and felt those students should get transportation to that academy ... we have never provided transportation to those.”
Ultimately, it was a Band-Aid on the situation for the board, but for Alisha Yocum, president of the Sabillasville Elementary Parent Teacher Organization, it was the gift of time.
“I think [board members] understood the impact that COVID has had on trying to find solutions … we were just really happy that they were able to see the impact it had and give us that opportunity to stay open one more year,” she said.
Yocum said the community will continue to work on its charter school application because they know the issue of closure will never fully go away. The charter school, if approved, could open in fall 2022.
“Long term, we think that’s a valid option so that we don’t keep coming back down this road. We certainly respect the comments that some of the board members gave — that we can’t keep coming back and saying we’ll give you one more year,” she said.
Yocum added that over the next year she would like to see more communication from the board and more informative meetings so the Sabillasville community can remain in the loop.
She was also happy to see the board’s policies and regulations on school closures will be reviewed and that open enrollment will be implemented. With this new model, Sabillasville Elementary might get enough students to stay open more than another year.