Amprey indicates key changes to school zoning plan He also calls special education, K-8 programs safe BALTIMORE CITY

February 05, 1993|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

Education officials are likely to pull back on plans to close some special-education schools and force other students to take long bus rides to unfamiliar new schools, city School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said yesterday.

And though the school board hasn't formally voted, Dr. Amprey said the proposed elimination of seven popular kindergarten-to-eighth-grade programs is probably dead.

Those proposals have been part of a controversial school rezoning plan that would shut nine schools and shift the boundaries of 57 others. The plan has sparked angry protest from parents.

About 400 people crowded into the Coldstream Park Elementary School auditorium last night for the second of two sometimes raucous public hearings on rezoning.

"You did not think about our children when you came up with this," Wennie Gibson, vice president of the parent group at Lemmel Middle School, shouted into a microphone, directing her anger at Dr. Amprey. "You have lost the trust of every parent in Baltimore City."

Critics say the plan, among other things, would result in bloated middle schools and force students to travel long distances past schools closer to their homes.

The K-8 proposal already has proven so unpopular that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and school board President Phillip H. Farfel say it is unlikely to be implemented.

But the board has not formally withdrawn the K-8 scheme or other parts of the plan, insisting on a formal hearing process before a vote in April. As a result, the rezoning plan continues to draw stiff opposition from parents unwilling to accept informal assurances that it will be changed to their liking.

Others critics said that, even if the board made major changes to the proposal, the school system would be hard-pressed to implement them by September and the proposed effective date.

The parents' anger came to a head last night in more than three hours of tempestuous testimony.

Brunsie Carrington complained that the rezoning plan would balloon the enrollment at Herring Run Middle School, where he is president of the PTO. The school, already one of the city's largest, has a history of disruption.

"To think we can add 500 more students into Herring Run Middle School, to bring our total to roughly 2,000, is insane," he said, vowing there there will be a parent boycott next school year if that increase takes place.

Rita Ridgly, vice president of the Baltimore City Council of PTAs, urged the board to "go back to your drawing boards and involve parents. Don't wait until the plans are mapped and push it down our throats."

Peter Albertsen, whose daughter attends Hazelwood Elementary-Middle School, pleaded for the K-8 program. "You have completely failed to show how we can expect to benefit from the proposed changes," he said. "You have provided absolutely no reason to believe that our children are going to get a better education, only a cheaper one."

And Nattie Scott, mother of a second-grader at James McHenry Elementary School, denounced the plan to send her child to Lombard Middle School, rather than to Diggs-Johnson Middle School, which is closer to their home. "Put me in jail, do what you want, my child will not go there," she vowed.

Many parents throughout the city are angered by transportation problems posed by threatened transfers.

jTC Starr Brigerman's 11-year-old daughter, for instance, walks two blocks to Francis Scott Key Elementary-Middle School in the tight-knit Locust Point neighborhood.

As drawn, the new plan would eliminate the school's K-8 program and force the girl and other South Baltimore middle-schoolers to attend Canton Middle School, about five miles from their homes -- a trip that takes nearly an hour on two buses.

"Here she walks two blocks, and I know she's safe and everybody knows her," said Ms. Brigerman, earlier this week.

Yesterday, Dr. Amprey defended the work of staffers who prepared the rezoning plan. But he conceded that critics may have a point.

"There are some aspects of that plan, quite candidly, that when I'm sitting there I say to myself, 'How in the world did we come up with this?'" he said at a press briefing.

He predicted that the plan is in for big modifications, based on comments at the two public hearings.

But Dr. Amprey said he has told the school board that he opposes scrapping the current plan and crafting a new one that would go into effect in September 1994, a timetable pushed by the City Council.

He called the emotional rezoning process "a drain on the efforts of the school system. . . . Let's get behind this as best we can, and move on."

The most obvious problems involve the four special-education schools, which cater to students with a range of serious learning, physical and emotional disabilities. The rezoning plan calls for those students to receive the service they require at regular schools. The intent was to make sure that students who can be "mainstreamed" aren't stuck in separate schools, said Dr. Amprey. But he said the proposal went too far.

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