Racial Equity Concerns Surface at Public Forum on School Redistricting

Racial Equity Concerns Surface at Public Forum on School Redistricting

‘You can’t put that burden on us:’ Parents reject concept of boundary changes

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Concerns list

A person writes a list of concerns about the countywide boundary analysis.

Caitlynn Peetz

Issues of race dominated the second of six public forums exploring what a countywide study on public school boundaries should strive to achieve.

The Thursday night meeting at Quince Orchard High School in North Potomac, attended by about 50 people, included questions of what would happen if students from schools with poor academic performance were moved into schools with higher achievement.

“They won’t be able to keep up and they won’t study,” one parent said.

Other parents said white families are being punished for “working hard and doing well and choosing to live in a certain community.”

When approached by a reporter, they declined to provide their names for fear of retaliation. One school staff member left the forum after it started to allow participants to speak freely.

A school system spokesman on Friday morning said students could perform well in different settings.

“Clearly, we think our students can succeed anywhere,” Derek Turner, the spokesman, said. “Our kids are smart and can thrive with the proper support and education from their teachers in their schools. That is not a concern for us.”

Boundary studies, known for generating heated debate, look at areas to shift students from one neighborhood district to another, often to relieve classroom crowding.

An independent consultant will be hired by the school board this summer for a yearlong examination of all school district boundaries, looking for areas of improvement.

Attendees
Attendees listen to instructions prior to the start of Thursday’s meeting at Quince Orchard High School.

“If Montgomery County was paying my taxes, then they could do that. But they’re not, so I have a right to go to my local school,” one parent said. “I made a decision to live where I live and pay the price I pay based on that school. They want to change everything and you can’t pull the rug out from under our feet. That’s wrong. Actually, it’s criminal and they will all be voted out.”

This is the school system’s first comprehensive look at school boundaries in at least 20 years, and the proposal was introduced by student board member Ananya Tadikonda, who cited consistent crowding issues and schools “heavily segregated by socioeconomic class.”

Students have lobbied for the study to focus on diversifying schools, saying schools are “now more segregated than ever.”

No school board members were present at Thursday’s meeting, but the moderator, who had no ties to the school system and was used to provide an “objective” viewpoint, will return the ideas generated by the group to the school system for consideration.

Parents met in small groups to discuss the issue and also circulated a sheet gathering tally marks for people who support no boundary changes or “minimal changes.” A separate petition was circulated to “maintain the strength and cohesiveness” of current school communities.

“We are satisfied with what we have, we don’t want change,” a parent said. “It’s not our fault those children don’t have opportunities. You can’t put that burden on us.”

An Asian parent said if racial equity is a consideration for where students attend classes, it also should be a factor in who makes sports teams or other extracurricular programs.

“Why can’t they have a different standard for Asian kids making it onto the basketball team,” she asked. “We’re not making the basketball team because we can’t reach the rebound, so we better let the ball bounce one time first. No, they don’t change that standard.”

Some parents presented alternate viewpoints that moving students from high-performing schools to lower-performing schools would also be detrimental, especially if students had to travel long distances to their new schools.

Additional community meetings will be held April 10 at John F. Kennedy High School in Glenmont, April 11 at Earle B. Wood Middle School in Rockville, April 23 at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda and at a date to be determined in November.

“We have a very engaged, informed and passionate community, and what we expect from our community is civility and respect, regardless of the point of view,” Turner said.

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

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