Kids can handle what parents won't


March 26, 2000|By Mike Burns

I switched schools three times in the elementary grades. I walked over a mile to two of those schools. Never once did it occur to me or to my parents that the relocation was destructive to our community or my upbringing. It was considered a sign of progress when a new school was built and available for us to use.

I continued to play with other kids in my neighborhood, less often with those who had to walk a mile from the other direction to get to the same school.

Common activities, whether softball or scouting or church meetings, provided opportunities to socialize with children that were not in my classroom. So did the neighborhood park.

In fact, kids I knew then seemed to come and go frequently. New friends were made, older ones sometimes moved on to more interesting companions and pastimes. It was real-life childhood, not the comic-strip Peanuts gang of enduring characters and relationships.

The word redistricting was not in vogue back then.

Parents still cared whether their children could attend the nearest school, or the newest school, and whether the facilities were overcrowded or antiquated. But they trusted in the ability of youngsters to make their own way in a new setting and to experience diversity (which meant something else in those days) and to make new friends.

These admittedly imprecise memoirs won't likely convince the Carroll County parents that are up in arms because their children will be shifted to another school under the school board's redistricting plan. The board expects to approve a final plan tomorrow.

These parents see upheaval of community, loss of lifetime friendships, neighborhood schisms and inequitable educational opportunities. They believe, as most of us want to, that things will always go on as they are now, that today's first-grade class will be the same when it enters the 12th grade.

These good citizens warn that school activities and programs will diverge and that community loyalties to a local school will be divided.

They act as if kids who go to different schools will never be on the same schedule and that communication between them will automatically cease.

That's not the case. Maybe all of the neighborhood won't be going to the same school talent show the same night, but so what? Maybe there'll be two school plays or two soccer teams in the community, but that's hardly a bad thing.

Certainly, parents have a right to protest inequities in the school busing and redistricting arrangements. The Carroll school board has said it will strive to avoid such problems where possible.

And it has made such efforts through revisions and adjustments to the original redistricting plan. The final plan isn't complete, but there is no need to wait another year, and another, for "later" projections of school enrollments.

The decision to redistrict in one fell swoop for the foreseeable future is a good one. It's better than the annual skirmishes over boundary lines for each new school. The plan tries to look ahead and to set standards to assure some stability. It incorporates plans for new schools that are yet to be built.

Undoubtedly, some schools will not be filled to the brim by the redistricting plan. But the shortfalls will be small and will likely be filled sooner rather than later, given the county's growth rate.

The clamor over the redistricting proposal is complicated by pressures to cancel the long-planned high school for the Westminster area. Without a firm decision from the county commissioners on funding that $35 million project, the current redistricting plan could be in vain.

Sectional rivalries play a major role in this dispute; several communities want the facility built in their area or the money spent for improvements to other schools in their area.

Without getting into all the arguments over whether a second Westminster high school should be built, suffice it to say that the Carroll school board and the county commissioners approved that preliminary decision six years ago.

To continually reconsider the project, while Westminster High School is overcrowded and with far too many students for any such institution, demonstrates a lack of commitment to the county's education needs.

In the redistricting debate, the most understandable argument comes from the Mechanicsville Elementary School parents. They don't want their children shifted from a top-performing school to an under-performing one. Especially since the Mechanicsville school is not overcrowded. That's an issue that should be remedied, involving as it does only about 50 kids. Peppermint Park has a similar complaint about their children bused at length to Robert Moton.

In its earlier statement on redistricting, the school board said that communities would not be split. Parents should insist that commitment be honored.

By the way, my child went through elementary school redistricting a few years ago. It didn't alienate the neighborhood children, who still found time to play together, play on the same teams in recreation council soccer league and go to each other's parties.

To be sure, the number of students redistricted to new schools should be limited; 3,600 Carroll children are slated to be moved under the proposed plan, which is a lot. But redistricting is a certainty. And it's likely that the affected children will adjust to it better than their parents.

Mike Burns writes editorials for The Sun from Carroll County.

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