Parents and residents from the River Hill High School community dominated much of the Board of Education's marathon public high school redistricting hearing yesterday, but the daylong meeting also unearthed some less-visible groups with concerns about proposed redistricting plans - members of the North Laurel community and Howard County students, to name a few.
The school board held the second of three public hearings on changes to high school boundary lines at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre. The meeting - which began at 2 p.m., broke for an hour and a half for dinner and continued well into the night - was designed to accommodate as many speakers as possible on the district's thorniest topic.
The board is considering four plans to adjust high school boundary lines in order to fill the county's 11th high school, Reservoir, which is scheduled to open next fall, and to relieve crowding at several high schools.
Three of the plans were drafted by the 28-member Boundary Lines Advisory Committee (BLAC), a citizens advisory panel, with the help of David C. Drown, the district's coordinator of geographic systems. The fourth proposal - the "gray" plan - was recently submitted to the board by a group from the Fulton-Lime Kiln community.
Of about 130 people signed up to address the board, most live in River Hill village or in neighborhoods within the high school's attendance area.
At least two of the four plans under consideration would split River Hill village, sending students to two or more high schools.
Since the redistricting process began several months ago, River Hill parents have been vocal about their desire to keep their community together. They have canvassed neighborhoods, passed petitions, shown up en masse at BLAC meetings and school board hearings, made stickers and buttons and written scores of letters.
In the process, many have thrown their support behind the community-based gray plan, with a caveat: the plan should be adjusted, they say, to include a River Hill feeder adjustment that keeps the village intact.
The gray plan drew bursts of applause last night during the evening session, especially from Fulton-Lime Kiln residents and supporters from River Hill.
But some students and North Laurel residents spoke out against an aspect of the gray plan: To send more Fulton-Lime Kiln residents to Reservoir, they said, the gray plan unfairly leaves children from North Laurel at Atholton High School instead of sending them to the new school, which is in Fulton.
"The gray plan claims to be community-developed and -driven," said Pat Flynn, a North Laurel resident whose husband is president of the North Laurel Civic Association. "In truth, one community developed it and deliberately sold it to others representing unsubstantiated claims and misinformation as fact. The authors arrogantly purport to speak for the whole county. I know that our community had no knowledge of or input into the gray plan even though our children are among the ones most impacted by it."
Atholton High School senior Alice Giles, the Howard County Association of Student Councils' legislative liaison, said that group voted to support the BLAC-produced red plan - not the gray plan - for several reasons, including its countywide perspective.
Many speakers against the gray plan said its benefits are nullified by an elitist premise.
"The gray plan is designed to keep North Laurel students out of Reservoir," said Robert Stoker of Columbia, adding that the effect of busing those students past Reservoir to Atholton would be "to homogenize Reservoir High School, creating a student body composed primarily of students from affluent families."
"Community plans put together by members of one community in order to benefit members of one community, cannot say that they had a countywide perspective," she said.
Atholton student Marc Peters said the gray plan would essentially make Reservoir a private school with public funding because, without North Laurel's diversity, the new high school would lack a significant number of minorities.
"What the gray planners are saying is, `We don't want these North Laurel kids. Let's stick them at Atholton.' I love Atholton High School. I want to finish my high school career there. The problem is the gray plan deems my neighborhood unworthy of attending Reservoir."
Gray-plan supporters, however, have said that there is no substantial justification for redistricting the large group of North Laurel students, and that their plan is more cost-efficient, relocates fewer students and keeps more neighborhoods in logical feeder districts than other plans.
For many of the students who spoke yesterday, those feeder districts are the most important issue board members should consider.
"Please don't separate Pointers Run from the rest of the [River Hill] village," said Clarksville Middle School eighth-grader Katherine Davis. "We are all part of the same community. We go to the same pool. We've been going to the same elementary and middle school for years. We have one Fourth of July parade and go to the same village center. The community shouldn't be split. No community should."