2020 | Schools

MCPS expected to delay final boundary analysis report six months

Superintendent says district is busy focusing on coronavirus response

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The Montgomery County Board of Education on Thursday is expected to grant a six-month extension for consultants to complete an ongoing review of school boundaries.

The delay is due to restrictions imposed by Gov. Larry Hogan to slow the spread of the coronavirus, according to school board documents. The school district has focused most of its efforts on transitioning to online learning while schools are closed, and creating a plan for returning to buildings next academic year.

“This delay is necessary due to the intervening public health emergency which has consumed the efforts of the entire school system and our broader community,” MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith wrote in a memo to the school board.

He suggests the school board “pause” the analysis until the fall, and set “an anticipated target release date” of Dec. 1 for the final report.

In his memo, Smith wrote that, since the interim report was released in March, consultants have continued their work, analyzing data and developing an interactive tool that will allow community members to visualize how potential boundary changes might look and how those changes might affect a school.

All community engagement efforts — a critical component of the project — have been postponed until the threat of the coronavirus subsides.

“Our immediate focus as a school system continues to be on the current public health emergency conditions, as well as planning for the operational and educational recovery and reopening approaches that will be needed as the emergency conditions are lifted,” Smith wrote. “We will be better positioned to return to this work, as well as to reengage with our community around the work, as the public health conditions resolve and as our operating and instructional environment is clearer.”

The school board authorized the countywide boundary analysis in January 2019. The goal, 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 school board hired the firm WXY Architecture + Urban Design for $475,000 to complete the study.

It has been a tense process as community members voice a wide range of opinions and perspectives, with some criticizing the process and how the school system might use the data.

The topic has been a focal point in the race for three open school board seats. The primary election is on June 2.

The first phase of the project included data gathering and analyses by consultants, as well as large community meetings to gather feedback from residents. The process culminated in the release of a mid-analysis report in March.

In it was a review of consultants’ community engagement efforts; an analysis of data about schools’ demographics, capacity and enrollment; and next steps.

In April, an MCPS spokesman told Bethesda Beat a delay of the final report was “highly likely” as the school district focused on the transition to remote learning and the ban on large gatherings continued.

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