Local NAACP Chapter Questions Bethesda-Chevy Chase Middle School Boundary Study

Local NAACP Chapter Questions Bethesda-Chevy Chase Middle School Boundary Study

School system asked for help from PTAs, NAACP to figure out which areas will be assigned to new middle school

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Updated at 2:25 p.m. – The Montgomery County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) claims the majority of boundary options for a new middle school in Kensington include busing students in the most diverse neighborhoods of the cluster to the farthest of its two middle schools.

In the final report of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Middle Schools Boundary Advisory Committee, committee members representing the NAACP Parent Council wrote a lengthy position paper in which they claimed nine out of the 10 boundary options presented by the school system “placed the burden” of longer-distance busing on the more diverse communities in the northeast section of the cluster.

One of the school system’s four factors to be considered in developing school boundaries includes demographic balance in terms of students at its schools.

The boundary committee also created its own set of nine criteria, including “comparable” free and reduced-price meals demographics at the two middle schools. School officials generally regard the rate of students receiving free and reduced-price meals at a school as an indicator of poverty.

Currently, all middle school students in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School cluster attend Westland Middle School in the southwest portion of the cluster. The boundary study is being conducted to figure out which students in the cluster should remain at Westland in Bethesda and which should attend the yet-to-be-named Bethesda-Chevy Chase Middle School No. 2 in Kensington, which will open in the northeast corner of the cluster in August 2017.

Elementary schools in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School cluster, via MCPS

The Boundary Advisory Committee, made up mostly of PTA members representing the cluster’s seven elementary schools, met last winter and spring in order to give Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) feedback on the potential options. New MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith will make his boundary recommendation in October and the Board of Education is set to finalize the boundaries in November.

Most elementary school PTA representatives indicated support for options that would put their students at the closest of the two middle schools. Proximity of communities to schools is another one of the four factors MCPS considers in boundary decisions, as well as projected student capacity.

The boundary committee also tried to avoid splitting individual elementary school areas in terms of where students go to middle school.

PTA representatives from Somerset Elementary School, a mostly white area in the cluster, said they’re strongly opposed to Option No. 9, which would send all Somerset students to the new middle school in Kensington, farther away than Westland Middle School.

The PTA enlisted the help of Jon Oldale, an attorney and former research scientist, to analyze all 10 options based on travel time for students, annual total greenhouse gas emissions and the cost to the MCPS transportation department for bus fuel.

“Option 9, which is strongly opposed by the Somerset school community, is also by far the least environmentally friendly option due to the high greenhouse gas burden it imposes,” Somerset PTA representative Kerri Davis wrote in her analysis included in the final report.

The group said Option No. 7, which would effectively send all students on the west side of the cluster to Westland and all students on the east side of the cluster to the new middle school, is the cheapest option in terms of transportation cost.

In its position paper, the NAACP group represented by Sabrina McMillan and Tony Parchment took exception to the idea that students in the Somerset cluster are within walking distance of Westland, which parents from that area argued would cut down on the need for bus transportation.

“None of the 6 options proposed students from the communities on the southwest part of the Cluster (e.g. Somerset) attend B-CC Middle School No. 2,” the NAACP Parent Council wrote in the final report. “In fact, Somerset students were identified as walkers, who live within the 1.5 mile walking radius of Westland. A MCPS Department of Transportation presentation, about school bus routes and travel times, that was requested by Committee members, clarified that MCPS deems students in the Somerset neighborhood as bus riders.”

Members of the boundary advisory committee differed on whether proximity to the middle school, equally diverse schools or avoiding a split of elementary school areas should be the most important factor in deciding who attends the new middle school.

“The unfortunate reality is that these goals are all inconsistent with one another on one level,” B-CC Cluster PTA coordinator Rafe Petersen wrote. “If we focus solely on transportation issues then we will have two schools that are not balanced in terms of demographics. In the end, I believe it is more important to have two diverse schools and to try and avoid split articulation than to have ease of transportation.”

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect the proper attribution of a quote taken from one of the Somerset Elementary School PTA representatives who contributed to the final report.

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