People interested in a review of Montgomery County’s school-attendance boundaries spoke up Monday about student achievement, segregated schools and equity.
But there were fewer of them than the school district was bracing for.
The meeting drew approximately 250 people from across the county to Rockville, but earlier in the day, members of the MCPS communications and security teams said they were prepared to accommodate hundreds more.
MCPS had set up four rooms for people who couldn’t fit into the auditorium, but they weren’t needed.
Still, though, there was tension.
Some people testified in favor of the study, calling it a “past due” attempt to determine how school boundaries could help alleviate crowding problems and integrate communities of different socioeconomic status.
Others voiced concern about the study’s objectives. They said changing boundaries would threaten their property values as the demographics of the neighborhood school change and they fear their children would have to take long bus rides to a school farther away.
The comments were consistent with feedback MCPS and the school board have received since beginning the study.
Between January and September, MCPS received roughly 1,000 comments through an online form. The comments showed a division in the community, similar to Monday’s.
To frequent applause and cheers, about two dozen students unanimously spoke in favor of the boundary analysis and one of its main focuses: diversifying schools.
“For too long, MCPS has prioritized segregationist and red-line era boundaries over diverse classrooms,” said Uma Fox, a sophomore at Richard Montgomery High School. “I recently had a classmate tell me we didn’t need diverse schools because she wants a ‘successful career, and those workplaces only have whites and Asians.’ Such racist ideas that assume black and brown students are educationally inferior are the root of opposition to the boundary study.”
Parents were less unified in their response.
Many lauded the review but said it shouldn’t focus on demographics — rather, it should solely concentrate on school capacity. Some said they fear “busing” and that MCPS is overlooking more pressing facility needs.
“Overcrowding in our schools has reached epidemic proportions, yet I am puzzled why changing the demographics of the schools is a greater priority,” said Jason Maloni, a father of three MCPS students. “… If ‘diversity’ remains your goal for redrawing school boundaries, you will be following the example of our two national political parties who for years, to their shame, have gerrymandered congressional districts not for the benefit of America, but for their own agendas.”
Not all parents oppose the study, though.
Amber Lesniewicz presented data to the school board showing schools’ “state report card” ratings vary, often with schools with large concentrations of white students faring better.
This shows, she said, that schools with more minority students “are facing challenges that their peers at the wealthier schools are not facing.”
“As it stands, students are pigeonholed along ethnic and economic lines,” Lesniewicz said. “Study after study shows that students who are from low-socioeconomic status households benefit from being around high SES students.”
For the first time on Monday, consultants contracted to conduct the studio presented their plan to the public. A main component of that plan, as described Monday and in the firm’s project proposal, is public engagement, specifically with “traditionally hard-to-reach communities that don’t typically come out to large public events,” said Adam Lubinsky, a principal with the firm, WXY Architecture + Urban Design.
Six more meetings are scheduled for December through January at schools throughout the county.
By 9 p.m. on Monday, after about 40 people had given their testimony to the school board, community members filed out of the auditorium.
A woman, pulling on mittens as she walked outside, into the cold, smiled.
“That wasn’t so bad,” she said. “But there’s still a long way to go.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com