County Divided about Districtwide School Boundary Analysis
MCPS to hold first public hearing on Monday
A map of existing school boundaries
Montgomery County residents appear divided about whether they support an ongoing school boundary analysis, according to written comments submitted to the school district.
The review will not require the school district to make any boundary changes, but has sparked tension in Montgomery County, considered one of the most diverse areas of the country.
Both sides of the debate are expected to give their perspectives at a hearing on Monday, the first public event since the analysis began.
Community members have made their opinions known to the school board through an online commenting form since shortly after the board decided in January to undertake the review.
This is the school district’s first comprehensive review in decades of the lines that determine what schools students attend.
Between March 5 and Sept. 16, MCPS received approximately 1,000 comments from the public about the study. Bethesda Beat obtained the comments through a Maryland Public Information Act request.
MCPS excluded commenters’ names and redacted other personal information “in order to protect the identity of community members.” For other topics, though, the district has shared commenters’ names when sharing feedback among the school board.
The comments show a county divided. Some community members support the analysis and its objectives (analyzing school demographics, travel patterns and school capacity problems), while others oppose analyzing boundaries and school use at all.
Some comments were simple and straightforward: “Please don’t do this,” and “Against it!”
Other people wrote paragraphs explaining their positions. They wrote about whether commute time to and from schools will increase, how strongly demographics and socioeconomic background should be considered in making school assignments, and the importance of creating a “sense of community” throughout Montgomery County.
Hundreds mentioned fears about “busing” and several said they will move if any boundaries change.
Several comments blasted remarks made by some community members early in the process, calling them “racist and classist.”
At public meetings early this year, some white and Asian parents said any changes to school boundaries to break up concentrations of white and minority students is unfair to parents who have “worked hard” to live in more affluent neighborhoods.
“I hope that we are ready to make the hard decision to withstand some very negative feedback from affluent members of the community,” one written comment says. “… Many white people are afraid, afraid that they will lose their privileged positions and that of their children. We can’t wait for these folks to get right with their own fears … right is right, even when it hurts your pocket.”
Monday’s public hearing begins at 6 p.m. at MCPS central offices in Rockville. Six other meetings are scheduled in December and January throughout the county:
• 7 p.m. Dec. 4 at Gaithersburg High
• 7 p.m. Dec. 11 at Julius West Middle
• 10 a.m. Dec. 14 at White Oak Middle
• 7 p.m. Jan. 7 at Walter Johnson High
• 10 a.m. Jan. 11 at Montgomery Blair High
• 7 p.m. Jan. 14 at Northwest High.
A sampling of the comments submitted to the school board. These comments have not been edited and appear as they were submitted:
• “Each student deserves and excellent MCPS education regardless of house or apartment, SES, home language or educational attainment of parents.”
• “Rearranging where students will go to raise test schools in other schools isn’t improving the results, it is fudging results. If my children were to buses to different high schools of middle schools we will move or go to private school.”
• “It is imperative that the study review changes with the goal of making the schools more representative of the general population. … I for one think my children at bills mill, cabin John and Churchill would have benefitted from more diversity both socio economically and with going to school with more minority students. I’m embarrassed at the insensitivity shown by students in ‘rich’ schools and wish I understood this issue better.”
• “Why I chose MCPS school is because the reputation. But the boundary change will put too much bad affects to the kids we love. Kids’ test scores were lower, behaviors went bad, after enroll with those kids whose parents are careless at all. I paid much more money for the same kind of house I good school area only became the kids’ parents are willing to do something for their kids.”
• “I can understand avoiding overcrowding; however, making demographics the primary factor is 1970’s busing all over again. That was a failed experiment then and will be failed experiment now.”
• “Any proposal to change school boundaries will have a detrimental effect in the community dynamics. It will affect more than just schools, the housing market will plunge into chaos as a result and local businesses will suffer. A long time Montgomery county resident (20 years with both kids attended public schools) I for one will move out of the county once this consultant work begins.”
• “The race based school redistricting is based on a racist policy, unfairly targeting students and parents negatively impacted by the practice. It does not reduce but widen the racial divide and is not going to help solving problems facing the MCPS. We condemn this practice in the strongest possible terms.” (Note: This exact comment was submitted 32 times.)
• “It makes sense to move the boundaries slightly to make sure students can still attend a neighborhood school with the same resources as every other school. The comments I have read so far in news articles have been blatantly racist and I hope MCPS does what is best for children and doesn’t succumb to the wealthy folks speaking out in such a racist manner.”
• “Many families buy homes based on the current school districts and making changes will have a direct impact not only on the home values, but also the educational plans they have created for their children’s futures. Changing boundaries is not the answer.”
• “The school borders should not be removed because some parents have put in a lot of hard work and dedication to be able to move to privligied areas such as Potomac and Rockville and to be able to go to good schools such as a Churchill and Wootton.”
• “The most social economic separated schools are private schools — why don’t you politicians and activists target them? Make private schools accepting students from disadvantaged group, or even better, ban private schools. It’s laughable to disturb every kids life within the middle working class, but close your eyes on those real rich class — those private schools are schools that really need diversity.”
• “Innate intelligence is out of our control beyond each parent’s DNA contribution … The premium we pay for our property in these clusters contributes significantly through our increased taxes providing to resources for the schools and the ability to attract good teachers. Arbitrarily redrawing lines, busing, or other measures to increase ‘diversity’ for the sake of it smacks of a race to the lowest common denominator, not of providing schools where each student can excel to the best of his/her abilities. Don’t mess this up.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org