2019 | Schools

Foreign Exchange Students Will Be Barred from 18 High Schools Next Year

Crowded classrooms blamed for decision to deny placements at all but eight schools

Foreign exchange students won’t be allowed at 18 county high schools next year due to crowding, according to school system officials.

In a message to three organizations the school system typically works with to host foreign exchange students, Montgomery school system Chief Academic Officer Maria Navarro said “MCPS values its relationship with exchange student organizations and recognizes the importance of this program,” but increasing pressure of crowded schools has forced school leaders to make the decision to bar exchange students at most of its high schools.

“Our desire to encourage exchange student enrollment does not mitigate our responsibility to our schools in maintaining ideal total enrollment numbers,” Navarro wrote.

In a message to families, representatives for AFS Intercultural Programs said this is the first time in 55 years students through their program have been denied placement in Montgomery County schools.

The Montgomery school system receives exchange students from AFS, Youth for Understanding USA and ASSE International Student Exchange Programs. None of the organizations were able to be immediately reached for comment and it was unclear how many students the decision will impact.

In her letter, Navarro referenced school system policy that says a host family can choose for their student to attend a different school than the one to which their home is assigned, but the host “must provide a letter accepting responsibility for providing transportation for the student.”

Schools that will allow foreign exchange students next year are Gaithersburg, Seneca Valley, Springbrook, Rockville, Sherwood, Damascus, Magruder and Watkins Mill high schools.

Each of the eight schools that will allow transfers has available capacity, according to school system data, except Gaithersburg and Rockville high schools, which are both fewer than 100 students over capacity.

Ninety-six of the county’s 206 schools are overcapacity, according to school system data, and 87 have at least one temporary, or portable, classroom.

Crowding issues are most evident at the elementary school level, with 71 schools over capacity, 24 of which are more than 100 students over capacity.

Thirteen middle schools are over capacity, and 12 of 26 high schools are over capacity – 10 more than 100 over their enrollment cap.

The county Planning Board last week gave final approval to the list of school areas that will fall into a residential building freeze beginning July 1 because the schools are too crowded without a plan to alleviate the issue.

The areas around four clusters of elementary, middle and high schools and 13 individual elementary schools will fall into moratorium next week.

Hemakshi Gordy, a rising senior at Montgomery Blair High School asked the school board to reconsider the decision to bar foreign exchange placements at many Montgomery high schools during a meeting Monday night.

She argued that adding a handful of exchange students to a school would have minimal impact on the overall school population.

“Exchange students teach us to communicate across cultures, a life skill that we all need to navigate today’s increasingly interconnected world,” Gordy said. “Please develop a better policy that enables me to continue interacting with exchange students in my last year of high school, and allows all students across the county to learn and grow from exchange students in the years ahead.”

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