School Boundaries Forum Strikes Civil Tone
Attendees at forum want school diversity to be part of the solution
There were no verbal fireworks this time.
The discussion at a forum Wednesday night on Montgomery County Public Schools’ (MCPS) boundary analysis was much more civil than previous forums on the subject.
More than 70 people attended the discussion, which was the first in a series hosted by the nonprofit Impact Silver Spring. Panelists from the school system and the county’s planning department gave a brief update on the analysis before attendees engaged in small group discussions.
Essie McGuire, executive director of the office of the MCPS chief operating officer, said the analysis will be complete by June 2020, with an update to come in February. County officials have been careful to not label the boundary analysis a “study,” she said, because it is not a student reassignment plan.
Forum participants discussed their hopes and fears about the analysis, which was proposed by former student school board member Ananya Tadikonda. The analysis will examine capacity issues, demographics, school and cluster boundaries and the merits of the locations of the county’s 206 schools.
In previous forums many parents expressed concerns about the possibility of their children being reassigned to schools farther from their homes or to lower performing schools. The discussions sometimes took on racial overtones.
At an MCPS forum in North Potomac in April, many angry parents spoke out against the idea of changing school boundaries to help achieve educational equity. One parent said: “We are satisfied with what we have, we don’t want change. It’s not our fault those children don’t have opportunities. You can’t put that burden on us.”
During the forum Wednesday night, Chris Barclay, a former member of the board of education, acknowledged that having an honest conversation about school boundaries is one of the most difficult topics for the community.
“It pits communities against each other,” he said.
“The easy thing was [talking about] the overcrowding. The hard thing was how to make a decision of how the community was going to be involved,” he said.
But participants Wednesday were struck by the overall constructive tone of the conversation. Michael Solomon, a rising senior at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, and a leader in the civic activist group MoCo Students for Change, said after the event that he was pleased that there was no hostility at Wednesday night’s forum.
“This is more conducive to learning than having the parents argue with each other,” he said.
Solomon said the board initially held most of its forums on the boundary analysis in Rockville and Bethesda — locations where there were fewer minority students.
“We had to push to push the board to get one meeting at John F. Kennedy High School [in Wheaton],” which he said is more representative of MCPS’s diversity.
Yerim Kone, a rising senior at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, said he also was pleased with the civility of the conversation, but said he is somewhat fearful that the issues of race and equity are being avoided.
“When it comes to these things, we don’t tend to look from a community perspective. We think of ourselves and our mortgage and our property values and the school that our kids go to, and we don’t think about the millions of kids who maybe don’t have the same opportunity as us and how this [boundary analysis] would be intrinsically better for the county as a whole,” he said.
Many of those who attended said they think the analysis is only a first step in solving the school system’s longstanding issues of overcrowding and racial inequity.
During the panel discussion, Molline Jackson, an employee in the planning department and 2000 graduate of Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, noted that overcrowding stems in part from the patterns of people moving in and out of the county, which contributes to an imbalance in schools in different parts of the county. Increasing the amount of affordable housing in the county, she said , would help solve the school crowding issues.
Jay Guan, the parent of a future Wilson Wims Elementary School student in Clarksburg, said the analysis might resolve overutilization of schools “a little bit” but that ultimately the long-term solution to solving MCPS’s crowding issues are to build more schools and add more affordable housing, as has been done in Clarksburg, where many schools are majority-minority.
“In order to resolve a lot of these issues, it has to start with planning,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org