2021 | Schools

MCPS boundary analysis report on track for May release

Contentious review has been underway for more than two years

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A long-awaited report about Montgomery County Public Schools is on track to be released publicly next month after several delays related to COVID-19.

The countywide boundary analysis, started in early 2019, was once the center of debate in Montgomery County, drawing thousands to community meetings, inspiring residents to run for school board, and sparking a wave of social media groups and posts.

But over the past year — aside from an occasional mention at a school board meeting or post on online forums — much of the attention once trained on the analysis has shifted to COVID-19 and its effect on schools.

Asked this week by Bethesda Beat about the latest on the boundary analysis, MCPS spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala wrote that the final report is due in May and is expected to be released then. She did not give a specific date.

Asked if there will be any more community meetings about the project, she wrote that the final report “and any engagement opportunities will be posted on MCPS’ boundary analysis website this month.”

The spring release is about five months past the original completion date, which was December. The release was delayed due to COVID-19.

The analysis is described by school district leaders as a comprehensive review of all school boundaries throughout the county. They have said that it is intended to evaluate how current boundaries “support or impede” students’ access to diverse schools, and show which schools aren’t crowded and which are within walking distance of students’ homes.

The controversial analysis has revealed deep divides in the community about how boundaries should be drawn.

For some, diversifying schools and breaking up concentrations of poverty is the main priority. For others, ensuring that students attend the schools closest to their homes is most important. Others fall in the middle or don’t hold strong opinions about the process.

The project’s interim report was released one year ago, in March 2020. It included a review of consultants’ community engagement efforts; an analysis of data about schools’ demographics, capacity and enrollment; and next steps.

Architecture firm WXY Studio is being paid about $475,000 to complete the project. As part of the project, WXY created what it calls an “interactive boundary explorer,” which allows users to visualize how boundaries affect schools’ enrollment, demographics and percentage of students who can walk to school.

The school district recently awarded WXY a $276,000 contract to update the tool to include more data about the district.

Consultants estimate that about 2,250 people attended the six community meetings held about the analysis in late 2019 and early 2020.

Most attendees were white and Asian parents of MCPS students, according to the WXY report. About 40% of attendees resided in the Bethesda area, while about 30% were from the Silver Spring area.

Nearly half of all people who attended said they were “skeptical” of the process, while about 31% said it “is an important effort that we need,” according to the interim report.

School board members and MCPS employees have been adamant that the analysis will not result in “surprise” boundary changes. Consultants can’t tell the board what boundaries to change.
If board members want to use the data to make changes, they have to initiate a separate lengthy process, according to MCPS policy.

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