After three hours of often heated debate and accusations of hidden agendas, the Board of Education voted yesterday to delay moving sixth-grade students in Meade-area elementary schools to MacArthur Middle School.
By a 5-3 vote, board members deferred moving the students for at least one year, pending the outcome of a study on redistrictingschools in the Meade area.
The decision came after about 25 parents from Meade-area schools testified they would rather their elementary schools remain crowded than have their sixth-grade students transferred to MacArthur Middle.
"Our children are in the sixth grade now and they're doing OK," said Deirdre Buell, of the Brock Bridge Elementary School PTA. "I don'tunderstand what the urgency is. We believe the best thing is to leave them in their schools."
Superintendent Larry L. Lorton proposed a plan last year to move sixth-graders from Brock Bridge, Harman, Jessup, Manor View, Maryland City, Meade Heights, Pershing Hill, Van Bokkelen, and West Meade elementary schools into a middle school. He said it would give students the middle school experience while also easing crowding at the elementary schools.
Half of the 10 schools are at or over capacity, while the remaining five are expected to be at capacity within five years. MacArthur Middle, with a capacity of 1,406students, is projected to be over capacity by 1993 with the added sixth-graders.
The nine Meade-area elementary schools are projected to house about 3,800 sixth-graders come September.
Parents said they expected the students would be moved to the proposed new Meade Middle School. A confirmed site has not yet been found for the new middle school, and recent budget constraints have delayed its constructionfor at least a year.
The superintendent's staff also recommended phasing in transfer of students from the elementary schools to MacArthur Middle over the next five years.
While some board members saidthey could support the alternative proposal, Meade parents at the board meeting said they opposed it.
Most parents said they were upset with what they characterized as "misinformation" from the superintendent's staff on just how crowded the schools would be, how many relocatable classrooms would be needed if the sixth-graders were left in the elementary school, and the cost of those relocatables.
Parentsalso alluded to some ulterior motive behind the board's proposal to move sixth-grade students by September.
"Our children are being used to overcrowd a school in order to get the state to fund more schools," said Thomas A. Holland III, of the Jessup Elementary School PTA.
Lorton and board president Jo Ann Tollenger became visibly upset at Holland's suggestion and denied there were any "ulterior motives" behind the superintendent's recommendation.
"There's no conspiracyup here," said board member Maureen Carr-York. "Dr. Lorton is not feeding us information to make us do something contrary to what the public wants."
Carr-York said she had visited crowded Van Bokkelen Elementary School and had been approached by many complaining about thecrowding.
"I still have trouble accepting at face value that 100 percent of the community is supporting" leaving the sixth-grade students in crowded elementary schools," Carr-York said.