Parents assail plans for school boundaries

Citizen panel's 3 plans discussed at Hammond High

October 24, 2001|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Howard County officials presented three complex and confusing sets of proposed changes to high school boundary lines last night, giving parents and community members their first look at the plans in their entirety.

Although the maps were muddled and the street names hard to read, many of the nearly 400 parents who crammed into Hammond High School's auditorium last night easily found the flaws in the plans that related to their specific communities.

Most vigorously attacked elements of all three proposals - "orange," "black" and "red" - despite an organized and thorough presentation of the logic and rationale behind each suggested move.

Among the grievances: either too many or too few students were being moved; some children had too recently or too often been redistricted; schools' racial and socioeconomic make-ups were being skewed; or students' traveling times were being unnecessarily increased.

Many were concerned that most of the plans moved sophomores and juniors from their current high schools.

Others complained that, in some cases, communities were being broken up or feeder-school systems were being dismantled.

"I don't like any of them," said Linda Albright, whose daughter attends Lime Kiln Middle School. Under all three plans, many of the pupils now attending Lime Kiln would go to Atholton High, even though the middle school shares a campus with Reservoir High School, opening next fall.

"We thought we would be on a campus. Our kids can walk to Reservoir, and yet there are kids from the east side of the county being bused in and they could be going to Hammond. To me, it doesn't make sense."

Parents in Columbia's River Hill village stood firm behind their backing of the "black" plan, because it is the only one that keeps the village intact.

"That was Jim Rouse's original plan, to keep this village together," said parent Gina Egel.

Rosemary Celentano argued that her daughter, who will be a junior at Atholton next year, should not be forced into Reservoir, where she will be an unknown in class, on the field hockey team and to the counselors who will write her college recommendations.

"It's very hard to adjust," Celentano said. "I've got a junior who's a very good student and that's not fair. And it's not just my child. I know a lot of my neighbors are concerned about the same thing."

Some parents circulated petitions after the meeting, including one encouraging the Board of Education to open Reservoir with only freshmen and sophomores - an idea board members have vetoed.

The board must make a final decision on redistricting by early next year to begin shifting about 1,332 students to Reservoir - the county's 11th high school.

A citizens advisory committee worked for seven months to come up with the proposals. The plans were drafted by David C. Drown, the school district's coordinator of geographic systems, who used committee suggestions and guidelines to draw the boundaries.

Each of the committee's meetings were open to the public, and parents have been commenting on incomplete drafts and ideas since the committee first began.

In the past, a school system official drew the lines and presented them to the public for comment afterward.

Board members who attended last night's meeting agreed not to comment specifically on any of the plans, waiting instead for parents to have time to give feedback to Drown and the boundary lines advisory committee.

Last night was also the first time the board members saw the proposals.

"I could appreciate the logic behind them. They discussed them; they hashed them out," said board Vice Chairwoman Sandra H. French. "But, you know, parents always have a lot of good insight, and I expect the plans to be altered before they come back to us."

Atholton High School senior Alice Giles, however, thought one group was left out of all the discussion - the students who will be moved from school to school next year.

"I hear all the emotion from parents about what's going to be best for their children, but none of them brought their children [to the meeting]," said Giles, 17. "How many of them have even talked to their children? Children tolerate moving actually pretty well. Students can take that a lot more than people give them credit for."

Drown and the committee will present the plans at Centennial High School at 7 tonight. They will accept comments from the community until Nov. 1 and will present final drafts to the school board Nov. 29.

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