2020 | Coronavirus

Delay of MCPS boundary analysis ‘highly likely’

School district to ‘focus on student learning’

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boundary map

A map of MCPS schools and clusters.

via MCPS

The completion of the highly anticipated and hotly debated analysis of Montgomery County Public Schools’ boundaries is “highly likely” to be delayed, another victim of the coronavirus pandemic, a school district official said.

Once the top local education story, the boundary analysis was suddenly pushed aside as COVID-19 sprouted in Montgomery County and quickly spread, forcing the shutdown of schools and businesses in a comprehensive effort to slow the disease’s spread.

Public gatherings of more than 10 people are banned statewide and school buildings are closed, making the second phase of the analysis, which includes a rigorous schedule of public engagement opportunities, difficult to complete.

The analysis, commissioned by the school board last year for $475,000, was scheduled to be finished in June. It was to provide MCPS leaders with a full picture of how school boundaries are positively or negatively affecting students’ access to schools that are diverse, near their homes and not crowded.

“No final decision has been made, but [it] is highly likely the analysis will be delayed as we focus on student learning in this pandemic,” MCPS spokesman Derek Turner wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Wednesday morning.

The report culminating the first year of the analysis was delayed, too.

Originally scheduled to be released at the end of February, MCPS and consultants with WXY Architecture + Urban Design opted to delay the interim report’s release by two weeks to finalize data analyses.

Then, coronavirus hit Maryland, prompting a statewide decision to close schools. MCPS again delayed the report to focus on transitioning students to an online learning platform. The report, however, was inadvertently posted to the school district’s website and found by community members March 18.

From the outset, the boundary analysis sparked tension throughout the county as people shared a wide range of opinions about what it should prioritize. For many, school district policy that emphasizes the importance of diverse student bodies is proper. Others believe the focus should be on ensuring students attend the schools closest to their homes.

After months of debate online, the friction came to a head during a community meeting about the project in December.

In the interim report, released in March, WXY consultants wrote that they tried to be responsive to feedback at the meetings and planned to continue holding smaller-scale meetings this spring.

A notice posted on the MCPS boundary analysis website says all community engagement activities have been postponed.

“This allows us to focus on providing continuity of services and learning for our students and families during this unprecedented time,” the notice says.

“Additional information about next steps” will be shared at a later date, it says.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com