For three hours yesterday the Anne Arundel County school board argued over how much say parents should have when school attendance boundaries are changed, then decided that one public hearing was enough.
The policy change was the board's attempt to allow for public response and avoid the possibility of being sued by unhappy parents.
Should the redistricting plan change because of what is said at the initial public hearing, a second public hearing would be held -- a concession to parents who objected to the board's initial plan to skip this step in the new policy.
"The way this is written [in the proposed policy], the board can close its doors and make whatever changes it wants," said Steven G. Tyler, vice president of the Committee for Neighborhood Schools.
Mr. Tyler said parents need the opportunity to comment on any revisions. He noted that the citizens' committee now preparing a redistricting plan did solicit ideas from the public before beginning the task. But, he said, many parents felt frustrated because the committed didn't even have a rudimentary plan to discuss.
Linda Lotz, chairwoman of the Odenton Elementary Citizens Advisory Committee, questioned the school board's wisdom in adopting a new policy two weeks before taking up a plan to redistrict the county school system.
"Emotions are certainly at a high point with the work of the redistricting committee pending," said Mrs. Lotz. "To now change policy procedures in regards to redistricting is to make parents feel ever the more apprehensive and adversarial in dealing with the school board."
She pointed out that the board's legal problems over past redistricting attempts occurred because the board did not properly notify the public about proposed changes.
In February, for example, the State Board of Education said the school system violated its own policy on handling redistricting proposals. After hearing public comment on a redistricting proposal released last year, the board then created a radically different plan that would relieve overcrowding in classrooms by transferring eighth-graders at George Fox Middle School to Northeast High School.
Some parents challenged the new plan, saying they were left out of the discussion. The state board ordered that a public hearing be held on the plan, but the board decided to start over with a redistricting plan to meet the needs of the county's 117 public schools.
Board member Maureen Carr-York explained during yesterday's meeting that the board was trying to avoid repeating past mistakes by changing the policy before the redistricting process begins in two weeks.
The redistricting committee appointed by the board will release its proposal Nov. 16. At that time, Superintendent Carol S. Parham will review the plan. She can recommend changes, or recommend that the board approve the committee's plan.
The board will adopt a preliminary plan in December. Public hearings on that plan will be held in January. The board must make a final decision by April 30, 1995.
"My purpose is to simplify and streamline the process," said Mrs. Carr-York. "We have certain forces at work which have every intention of seizing upon a particular word and litigating it to death. In the last couple of instances we had hours and hours of public hearings, and had to go through it all again because the policy was so convoluted."
Board members Carlesa Finney and Joseph Foster wanted to make sure that the board gave proper notice to parents whose children would be changing schools. The new policy does not specify how parents will be notified.