Hundreds of parents filled the Coldstream Park Elementary auditorium last night to denounce a proposed citywide school rezoning plan.
The sometimes raucous public forum was the third such meeting this week during which parents were briefed on the plan to close nine schools, change the boundaries of 57 others and return all schools to traditional elementary, middle and high school grade levels.
Many of those who protested last night were angered by the proposed elimination of popular K-8 schools.
That proposal, unveiled last week, already is in serious doubt now that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has voiced his opposition. The president of the city school board admitted earlier this week that the K-8 proposal is probably dead.
But parents were taking no chances, urging the school board to immediately vote down the rezoning plan. Deborah McDaniels, parent of a seventh-grader at Mount Royal Elementary-Middle, was typical of many.
"This is a school that works," she said. "The attendance is good, the test scores are very good. If you have a program that works and the children are getting the quality of education they need, you should work with that. To close it would be a detriment to the parents and the city."
She said the school board should vote down the plan and "go on to other things that need to be addressed in the school system."
Her views were echoed by Romaine Chase-Bobbitt, who also spoke at the hearing.
"The K-to-8 concept works, not just at Mount Royal, but at all the K-8 schools," she said. "More schools should be made into K-8 schools if possible." She said she was angry with the superintendent for suggesting that some K-8 schools are elitist.
"We have children in [Mount Royal Elementary], from welfare mothers to doctors," she said. "This is not 1972. This is an urban, predominantly black public school."
Rae Ragland, a seventh-grader at Mount Royal, turned out to support that school's K-8 program.
"I think Mount Royal is a successful school," she said. "Students are trying to strive for excellence."
And her grandmother, Brenda Tolbert, said the family "looked around for a long time before we found a school for Rae. We've been very pleased with her progress."
At least one parent warned that passage of the rezoning plan could force families out of the school system.
"My child, if she cannot go to the school of my choice, will be taken out or we will move to Howard County," said Ellen Schoonover, president of the PTA at Guilford Elementary and a parent of children at Guilford and Barclay Elementary School.
But the school board received support from at least one parent.
John Wheeler, whose child graduated from city schools, warned that some opposition might be coming from white parents fearful of sending children to school with blacks.
"Put forth your plan, the best plan," he urged the school staff. "If it's rejected, let it be rejected."