Parents fight plan to rezone Mount Royal School at center of dispute

March 30, 1993|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

Angered by plans to shift a handful of students out of Mount Royal Elementary-Middle School this September, parents, teachers and students protested last night to Baltimore City Council President Mary Pat Clarke.

Their target: a citywide rezoning plan they say effectively locks out middle school students who don't live in Mount Royal's proposed new middle school boundaries.

The proposed rezoning plan, the first in nearly 20 years, could come up for a vote at the city school board's meeting Thursday.

Mount Royal's combined elementary-middle school program was one of seven kindergarten through eighth grade programs that would have been eliminated under the original rezoning plan proposed in December.

Fierce protests from parents, along with opposition from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, led school officials to drop that part of the proposal, and to propose six new K-8 programs.

But Mount Royal parents say the revised plan redraws the middle school boundaries in a way that leaves no room for out-of-zone middle-schoolers, beginning with incoming sixth-graders this September.

That means that 19 of the 60 students in this year's fifth-grade class could find themselves going to new middle schools next school year, according to school department figures.

And in coming years, the rezoning could affect more than 100 students in the lower grades who come from outside the new middle school zone and would be sent to other schools once they reach sixth grade.

"We would like this plan to be put off, or canned altogether," said Romaine Chase-Bobbitt, a Harlem Park resident and vice president of the Mount Royal PTA, whose two daughters attend Mount Royal.

She said parents had been led by school officials to believe that no child currently enrolled in a K-8 program would be displaced as a result of rezoning.

"Mount Royal has been pretty much a citywide school, so students have come from throughout the city," said Ms. Chase-Bobbitt. "As a taxpaying citizen, I feel I should be able to put my children where I want them to go to school."

And she warned that the rezoning plan could pose similar problems for other schools around the city that draw students from outside their official attendance zones.

Norman J. Walsh, chief of planning for the school department, said Mount Royal's elementary-middle school program would remain intact under the new plan.

That means that children from within the new middle school zone would be able to attend Mount Royal from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Dr. Walsh rejected the suggestion of some parents that school planners were trying to gut the K-8 program in a roundabout way.

"Why would we do that, when we're expanding it to six more schools?" he asked. "What we're trying to do is build a rational plan for where kids should go to school."

Among the factors school officials used in setting new boundaries are projected enrollments, school capacities, and the continuation of current policies on students attending schools outside their home zones.

Dr. Walsh added that there would probably continue to be some space at K-8 schools for students who live outside a school's official boundaries.

Meanwhile, protesting parents got support last night from council President Clarke, and from council members Anthony J. Ambridge and Carl Stokes, both 2nd District Democrats.

Mr. Ambridge urged that the rezoning plan be put off and said he would move to take away school department funds if officials proceed with an unacceptable rezoning plan.

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