School redistricting. The mere mention of these words is enough to make parents angry and school administrators nervous for even considering the idea.
“This is probably one of the toughest things that the board has to do,” Brad Young, president of the Frederick County Board of Education, told us last week. “I assure you we want to do what’s best for every single kid.”
He’ll get no argument on that from us. The complaints from parents and students about how redistricting students can separate friends, potentially move students to schools farther from their homes and even split communities all have merit.
These concerns are enough to rile even the most supportive parents. In the case of Superintendent Terry Alban’s plan for the Linganore-Oakdale-Urbana area, as many as 1,500 elementary schoolers, 130 middle schoolers and 210 high schoolers could be affected by the moves.
School redistricting — here in Frederick County as well as everywhere else — always grabs the attention of parents. One needs only to look down the road in Howard County, where hundreds of parents marched on school headquarters last week, shouting slogans and carrying signs, to protest changes there. It’s the latest example of how contentious school redistricting can be.
But the school redistricting process doesn’t always have to be confrontational. And that’s our hope as Frederick County Public Schools winds its way through this process.
At the heart of the redistricting process is to establish attendance boundaries and feeder patterns for two new elementary schools — Sugarloaf Elementary School on Stone Barn Drive in Urbana, and Blue Heron Elementary School in the Lake Linganore Hamptons West neighborhood. These changes will also ease crowding at other schools while changing the boundaries for 10 elementary schools. A smaller portion of middle and high school boundaries will be affected, too.
But more importantly, the plan would, as Alban said at a recent meeting, enable a long-term fix that would “create feeder patterns where kids can stay together” while balancing enrollment at each school.
We’re encouraged that Alban and the school board are willing to take on redistricting. As we’ve said, it’s not an easy subject to discuss. But with kids too often taking classes in trailers, and as housing development proposals continue to put the squeeze on particular areas of the county, it’s a conversation that needs to happen.
As for Alban’s particular plan, we’ll reserve judgment until the community has had a chance to weigh in. We’ll freely admit that we don’t have the perspective that parents and administrators have in this discussion.
This is why we hope the public takes advantage of the opportunity to offer their perspective. It’s vital to the process.
The board held a public hearing Tuesday night in Urbana and has meetings planned for tonight at Linganore High School and on Sept. 24 at Oakdale High School. The hearings go from 7 to 9 p.m., with speakers’ sign-up beginning at 6:30 p.m.
School redistricting can cure a lot of current ills. But it’s the dialogue that’s happening now that ultimately will make any decision a stronger one.