Ouster of out-of-zone pupils sought Plan would bar those who live outside Mt. Washington

March 28, 1997|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Parents upset about crowded classrooms at Mount Washington Elementary School are telling students who live outside the school boundaries to get out and go elsewhere in September. Their stance has created turmoil and prompted appeals this week to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to resolve the politically sensitive impasse.

"We wish we didn't have to do this," said Deborah Howard, president of the school's Parent Teacher Organization. "[But] the building is just groaning."

In January, a group including the PTO, the principal and a city student placement official recommended "removing out-of-zone students," a plan which could oust as many as 46 currently enrolled pupils, or one in 10.

This week, fearful the mayor could change the course of its plan, the PTO sent a letter to Schmoke stating, "It is imperative these children not return . . . Please honor our decisions." The only exception to the PTO plan would allow fifth-graders next year to return for their last year.

The letter was the latest volley in a long-running debate over how to deal with a school some say is bursting at the seams. The school now has 90 more students than it was designed to hold, and school officials estimate that half of them live outside the zone. The mayor's office has the final word on the matter.

Schmoke said yesterday he objects to the PTO's wholesale ejection of out-of-zone students who already attend the school, situated atop the picturesque village in North Baltimore and known as one of the city's best.

"They [the PTO] wouldn't want that to happen to their kids," said Schmoke. "I have a real problem with people who honestly told their address when their kids were admitted now being told they can't return."

The mayor added, "It sounds like somewhere there was a system breakdown. [But] if adults messed up, I don't want children to suffer. I think they ought to distinguish between bending and playing by the rules."

Changing demographics and a new housing development, the Woodlands at Cold Spring/Newtown, have caused a population explosion in the school in recent years, up from 325 students two years ago to 410 today.

Jacqueline Waters-Scofield, the school principal, said Wednesday that her understanding from the mayor's office was that "the children who are here will be allowed to complete at Mount Washington."

In a letter to Scofield Monday, Schmoke wrote, "Obviously, students who have given false addresses in order to enroll . . . should not be allowed to stay, but I understand that out-of-zone students attending under old policies were to be allowed to graduate."

The lively school halls showed no signs of discipline or morale problems this week, despite the large class sizes. The largest class, of 36 fifth-graders, intently read novels.

"They're on task," said teacher Doris Winslow. "It's like this all the time." Another teacher, Sharon Ferger, said she and her fellow "team teacher" designed strategies to deal with the large sizes, such as grouping by ability. "Once we figured it out, I think it worked."

Several parents surveyed after school Wednesday indicated they were happy with the racially diverse school, which one called a "little United Nations." Author Taylor Branch, a Mount Washington resident whose children recently graduated, called it a "vital community asset."

Pub Date: 3/28/97

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