On a rainy night on Tuesday in Germantown, approximately 350 people flocked to Northwest High School to learn more about an ongoing countywide boundary analysis started last year by Montgomery County Public Schools.
The meeting was sometimes tense as people skeptical of the process asked questions of consultants and MCPS officials, but overall the discourse was cordial.
In January 2019, the Montgomery County Board of Education authorized a comprehensive, independent review of all school boundaries throughout the county.
The goal, school district officials say, is to gather data to help inform decisions during future boundary studies, typically authorized when a new school is built or an existing school undergoes an expansion project.
The $475,000 analysis is being conducted by WXY Architecture + Urban Design, an architecture firm based in New York.
The presentation at Tuesday’s meeting was the same as at the four community meetings before it. Consultants provided attendees with an overview of the project, addressed frequently asked questions, allowed attendees to discuss the analysis in small groups and answered questions.
The boundary analysis is guided by four key factors outlined in MCPS policy that dictates how school boundaries are drawn or changed.
The policy emphasizes stabilizing school enrollment, maximizing the number of students able to walk to school and creating a diverse student body. It considers the stability of school boundaries over time.
Despite the policy saying MCPS should “especially strive” to create a diverse student body at each school, WXY consultant Kushan Dave said diversity will not be prioritized over the other factors throughout the process.
When asked for clarification, an MCPS spokeswoman recently said that because the analysis is a data gathering exercise and not changing boundaries, it does not have to conform to the policy.
Early in the meeting, some community members interrupted Dave as he explained the analysis, interjecting with questions.
Essie McGuire, executive director of the MCPS Office for the Chief Operating Officer, told community members that if the interruptions didn’t stop, consultants would be forced to “take a break.”
“There are a lot of people who have made time to be here this evening. … We’re not going to continue to interrupt,” McGuire said. “We will take questions at the end.”
The meeting drew people from across the county. Approximately 30% said they live in the Bethesda area, while 23% said they live in the Germantown area, where the meeting was, according to a poll conducted by WXY. About 60% of attendees identified as white or Asian.
In the same poll, about half of respondents said they didn’t think school boundaries should be reviewed periodically.
During a brief question-and-answer session at the end of the meeting, community members peppered consultants with questions and some voiced their skepticism about the process. Tension over the topic prompted some sharp exchanges between audience members and MCPS staff, but neither security nor police officers present were called on to intervene.
Some said they believe the analysis equates to a “busing plan.”
Derek Turner, an MCPS spokesman, disagreed.
“This analysis is not about busing,” Turner said. “Boundary studies happen all the time. In fact, since 1985, there have been 131 boundary studies in Montgomery County. … It happens in Montgomery County all the time, and you know what? It’s turned out just fine. We have an excellent school system.”
The final community meeting of the first phase of the boundary analysis is at 7 p.m. Jan. 23 at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com