Thunder Hill parents launch challenge to redistricting

They oppose possible plan to switch high school zone

January 19, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Residents of Columbia's Thunder Hill neighborhood discussed ways last night to fight possible redistricting of students from Howard High School to Oakland Mills High School.

More than 50 residents -- parents and their children -- met at Howard High in Ellicott City to voice concerns about the proposal and to formulate battle plans.

The meeting was a reaction to the "preliminary" redistricting ideas that Maurice F. Kalin, associate superintendent of planning and support services, shared with residents in December.

Kalin will recommend a redistricting plan to the school board on Jan. 27. On March 23, the board will approve school boundary lines for next academic year.

Among the possibilities Kalin mentioned is moving the 100 students who live in the Thunder Hill area to Oakland Mills High, also in Columbia. The neighborhood used to be in the Oakland Mills High district, but was redistricted about 10 years ago, he said.

Most parents said that they are not opposed to sending their children to Oakland Mills specifically -- they simply do not want a change forced on them.

"We haven't moved since '78," said John Hudak, who has two children -- one a 10th-grader at Howard. "It'd be nice if we'd have continuity in the school system."

Patti Hennessie, who has two sons -- a junior at Howard High and an eighth-grader at Oakland Mills Middle School -- said she organized the meeting to coordinate smaller efforts to fight the redistricting possibility.

In December, Kalin told parents the redistricting plan was a response to crowding at Howard High and extra space at Oakland Mills High.

Hennessie said the numbers Kalin gave her showed that Howard is about 80 students over capacity and Oakland Mills is about 60 students under capacity.

"I can't see where moving [students from] Thunder Hill makes much of a difference," she said.

Some parents suggested that redistricting be delayed a few years.

JoAnn Shay O'Neill, whose seventh-grader is slated to attend Howard, said that Kalin will meet with residents about their concerns at 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at Thunder Hill Elementary School, 9357 Mellenbrook Road.

O'Neill encouraged residents to testify at the March 14 school redistricting hearing.

Residents will not be allowed to speak about redistricting Jan. 27, when Kalin presents his proposal to the board, she added. One parent suggested they picket outside the Department of Education building during that meeting.

Other ideas included e-mail and letter campaigns, inviting school board candidates and the two superintendent finalists to meetings, and coming up with alternatives to redistricting.

Some Thunder Hill students live close enough to Howard High to walk, parents said.

Another reason parents oppose redistricting is that Howard High students take fewer courses at a time and finish them in a semester; at Oakland Mills, pupils take yearlong courses. The difference in schedules gives Howard High students the opportunity to take four extra classes, Hennessie said.

Mainly, teen-agers do not want to leave a school in which they have invested time -- and younger pupils slated to go to Howard are upset that their plans might have to change.

"I was looking forward to going to Howard with my sister," said Brittany Frank, 13, an eighth-grader whose sister is a junior there.

She wrote a letter to the school system about her concerns. "I was crying over it," Brittany said.

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