Schools remap creates tension Waverly parents bitterly divided over redistricting

March 25, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The halls of Waverly Elementary School are filled with tension these days -- the tension of parents upset about redistricting.

As Howard County's annual process of adjusting school boundary lines comes to a close tonight, Waverly is ground zero for the biggest conflict of 1997.

Parents are bitterly split over how many Waverly students should be sent to the new elementary to open next fall in Ellicott City, Hollifield Station.

"This is literally tearing the school apart at the seams," said Karen Kreh, Waverly's PTA president. "The tension in the halls is absolutely incredible.

"When you see parents in the halls, you often check to see where they live before going up and talking to them. It's actually gotten that painful," Kreh said.

Parents say Waverly is yet another example of the drawbacks of Howard's annual redistricting process. But they also admit that a better alternative has yet to be found.

The tension at Waverly also stands in sharp contrast to the relative tranquillity at Pointers Run Elementary, the Howard elementary where enrollment is expected to be split next fall with the new Fulton Elementary on Route 216. Pointers Run parents already are well on their way to forming a PTA for the new school.

The Howard school board will vote tonight on a redistricting proposal that would force about 1,400 elementary and middle school students to change schools in the fall, among a total school enrollment of about 39,000 pupils. The board already spent more than eight hours in public work sessions and hearings on the proposal.

The boundary line changes are needed because of the school system's increasing enrollment and the opening of three new schools in the fall -- Hollifield Station, Fulton and the Murray Hill Middle School in North Laurel.

Where to draw the line

While all neighborhoods targeted for redistricting have shown interest in the process, the main dispute for the past two months has been where to draw the enrollment line between Waverly and Hollifield Station.

Waverly is off Old Frederick Road to the west of Hollifield Station, which is off Rogers Avenue. At issue is whether to draw the dividing line at one of two streets intersecting Old Frederick Road in between the two schools, either Old Mill Road or McKenzie Road.

Most families living west of Old Mill want McKenzie as the line, leaving both elementaries with about 400 pupils each in 1997-98. Most families living east of Old Mill want the school board to choose Old Mill, saying that's the natural border for their neighborhood.

Using Old Mill as the line would leave Waverly at least 200 students under its capacity. But using McKenzie as the line would create a small pocket of Waverly students who would attend Patapsco Middle School while almost all of their Waverly peers would go to Mount View Middle School.

The alternatives have pitted Waverly parents against each other -- with families living between Old Mill and McKenzie literally caught in the middle. Two other alternatives presented to the board last week have done little to ease the tensions and haven't drawn much support among parents.

'Precarious position'

"We're in this really precarious position," said Jackie Lujan, a parent. "Here we are testifying that we want to stay with our neighbors and go to Hollifield Station, but it's very possible we'll be kept at Waverly.

"I just hope we'll be able to put all of this behind us once the board makes the decision," Lujan said.

Several other parents living between Old Mill and McKenzie say they're reluctant to speak out. "If we get kept at Waverly, I'll still have to deal with everyone in the school -- I don't want everyone mad at me and my children," said one mother.

"A lot of people living in the 'gray zone' are afraid of repercussions if they remain at Waverly," said Lisa Angell, a parent who lives near Lujan but whose children will attend Hollifield Station under either alternative.

Like many other schools expecting redistricting, Waverly's PTA set up a committee last fall to examine the proposals and keep parents up to date. After a series of meetings this winter, the committee disintegrated amid chaos, tension and disagreement, parents said.

"We kept meeting and talking and going around and around, and we just couldn't reach any agreement," said Angela Liuzzo, a parent who lives west of Old Mill and supports the McKenzie line. "It's not quite to the Hatfields and the McCoys, but it's not that far off -- all because we live on opposite sides of the street."

Parents lobby board

Now, parents have been doing all they can to lobby the school board, flooding board members with dozens of letters and phone calls.

Parents supporting McKenzie as the line even prepared a 45-page booklet for the board titled "The Optimal Learning Line -- The McKenzie Road Alternative." It includes enrollment data, cost figures and a sample of parents' testimony.

Not to be outdone, parents supporting Old Mill sent board members pocket protectors, urging the board to reject creating a pocket of students separated from the rest of their neighbors.

"It's just gotten so divisive," said Janet Gilbert, a parent who lives in Waverly Woods west of Old Mill and supports McKenzie as the boundary. "I've been going around apologizing to parents living on the other side of the line, telling them I'm sorry it's going so badly. There's nothing else I can do."

Pub Date: 3/25/97

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