An unpopular plan to bus Mayo Elementary School pupils to Annapolis Middle School for two years while their new school is under construction drew nearly 100 parents to yesterday's school board meeting.
Speaking on behalf of about 60 Mayo parents at the meeting, Robin Greulich apologized to Annapolis Middle School for what she called racist comments made by some Mayo residents, who said they were worried about sending their children to a school with a large minority population.
"I'd like to give my deepest apologies to the students and parents of Annapolis Middle School," said Greulich, who is leading an effort to appeal Superintendent Carol S. Parham's decision on the relocation of Mayo pupils.
"Those racist remarks were not made by a majority of our people," said Greulich, who presented the board with a petition bearing the names of 1,200 parents and others opposed to the move. At yesterday's meeting, many Mayo parents wore blue ribbons to signify the school's designation as a National Blue Ribbon school for academic excellence.
After studying the issue for several months and considering the input of citizen advisory groups, Parham announced two weeks ago that the 340 Mayo pupils will be housed for the next two years in a separate wing of Annapolis Middle.
Parents of Mayo pupils say their main objection to the Annapolis Middle move is the bus travel time for their children. They say the trip is 45 minutes each way in rush-hour traffic, and that a Route 2 road-widening project -- to begin in April -- will make the ride longer.
"These hours eliminate all after-school activities," Greulich said. "It also puts our children home in the dark for part of the year."
Greulich, who chaired the Mayo relocation advisory committee, questioned the accuracy of economic and transportation information that Parham used to arrive at her decision, and said Mayo parents have requested documents to do a separate cost analysis.
She said most Mayo parents support sending their children to Central Elementary in Edgewater during the construction of the new Mayo Elementary, but Parham found that option to be cost-prohibitive because it required seven portable classrooms.
Steven Johnson, chairman of the Annapolis cluster for the Citizen Advisory Council, said the critical comments made by some Mayo parents about Annapolis Middle School raise troubling questions about race.
"If you were a Mayo parent at a meeting at Annapolis Middle School, how would you be able to make it right with those parents?" he asked.
Parents from Central Elementary voiced support for Parham's decision at yesterday's meeting. They say their school, which has an open-space design, could not accommodate an additional 340 pupils.
"Overcrowding and noise do impact learning and safety for all children," said Patrick Barry, who spoke yesterday on behalf of Central Elementary's PTA. "Let us not lose sight of the fact that the relocation of Mayo is a temporary imposition while a new Mayo Elementary is being built."
George Zell, representing Concerned Citizens for Successful Students, a group representing Annapolis schools, welcomed Mayo pupils and parents to Annapolis Middle.
He said the other elementary schools that were temporarily located at Annapolis Middle -- South Shore and Mills-Parole -- "adapted to the arrangement."
"We empathize with your concerns for your children and the commute," Zell said.
Expansion funds OK'd
In other business at yesterday's meeting, the school board approved $12 million for the renovation and expansion project at North County High School after a lengthy discussion over the physical education space at the Glen Burnie high school.
The board rejected Parham's recommendation of a $14 million project that included $2 million for a gym expansion. However, it ordered a feasibility study -- at a cost of $25,000 to $50,000 -- to look at ways to improve the physical education space at the school.
Board member Michael McNelly cast the one dissenting vote.
"I don't need to spend $25,000 to tell me you don't have an adequate gym when you have basketball games," McNelly said. "I also don't need a study to tell me that the $2 [million] to $4 million is not there."
The decision angered North County Principal Patricia Gronkiewicz, who said the original $12 million project cost does not take into account the additional physical education space needed to accommodate increased enrollment.
The expansion, scheduled to begin in the summer, will increase the school's capacity by 460 pupils. Enrollment at the school is projected to exceed 2,000 in September.
"You can't continue to add children to a facility unless you can accommodate their needs," Gronkiewicz said after the board vote. "It's not just about bleacher space." She said the gym is an "instructional environment" used for student activities after school, in evenings and on weekends.
`A square hole'
Gronkiewicz said most of the crowding and space problems at North County High stem from the fact that the facility was originally built as a junior high school.
"This board has to understand that it can never do what it did to our community," she said. "Take a round peg and fit it in a square hole."