2020 | Schools

MCPS boundary report released prematurely, spokesman says

District wanted to focus on coronavirus response instead

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The Montgomery County Board of Education at a meeting in January.

File photo

Montgomery County Public Schools posted a long-awaited report about its school boundaries in error on Wednesday, according to a statement from a spokesman.

A few hours after a Bethesda Beat story was published breaking down key findings of the report, MCPS spokesman Derek Turner wrote in a statement that the report was “made public on the MCPS website on March 18 in error.”

The report was not linked on the school district’s webpage about the boundary analysis, but was able to be found on other pages of the MCPS website.

“We know that there is significant interest in this report, however, given the ongoing global health crisis, MCPS delayed the public release of the report to ensure the district’s focus could remain on providing continuity of services and learning for our students and families,” the statement said. “Given that the interim report has already been widely shared in the community, it will remain posted and public on the MCPS website.”

The MCPS boundary analysis aims to examine all school boundaries throughout the county.
The goal, school board members say, is to evaluate how current boundaries “support or impede” students’ access to diverse schools, schools that aren’t crowded and schools within walking distance of their homes.

The mid-review report surfaced around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday on the Facebook page Montgomery County MD Neighbors for Local Schools, in a post from its founder, Stephen Austin.

In an interview Thursday night, Austin, who is running for a seat on the school board, said someone sent him the link on Tuesday, and he was waiting for MCPS to make an announcement before posting the link to the report. When an announcement wasn’t made, Austin posted the link so people were aware it was available.

“I don’t know if I was concerned, but I was confused,” Austin said. “I thought maybe they were just staging, but it’s kind of crazy they would stage something on a live website.”

Jill Ortman-Fouse, a former school board member who is affiliated with the group One Montgomery, whose members support diversity being a focus of the boundary analysis, said she sympathizes with MCPS.

The school district is in an unprecedented time trying to prepare for potential long-term teaching plans for students should schools remain closed for more than two weeks due to the coronavirus, she said.

Public schools throughout the state are closed until at least March 27 as cases of the coronavirus pile up. State officials have indicated the closures could last longer.

“Normally, I’d be really [upset about how the report’s release was handled], but they’re under such a crush with the logistics right now,” Ortman-Fouse said.

MCPS’ statement said the school district will “share additional information about next steps in the districtwide analysis process at a later date.”