- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

The Prince George's County, Md. school board will vote tomorrow night on proposed boundary changes that would return 7,000 children to elementary and middle neighborhood schools, but several parents are opposing the changes as too disruptive.
The parents and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also fault the school administration for not giving them enough information and time to weigh in on the changes designed to phase out forced busing in the county.
The proposals could change the boundaries for 63 of the county's 188 schools. Thousands of children now live in forced-busing zones created after a 1972 court ruling to end segregation and create racial balance in county schools.
In 1998, the county, the school system and the NAACP signed an agreement to phase out forced busing by building 13 new schools and returning children to neighborhood schools. The county and state also pledged to build an additional 13 schools to accommodate growth, said Bill Greene, director of pupil accounting and school boundaries.
In November 2000, the board voted to redistribute 4,153 students from 10 high schools over three years. The latest boundary proposals, if implemented, would take care of a large chunk of the desegregation plan. In the last phase, 6,300 elementary school students will be returned to neighborhood schools in 2003 and 2004, Mr. Greene said.
The county held seven public hearings on the new boundary proposals in December and January, but parents said the meetings were not publicized far enough in advance.
"The administration knew about this for some time, but they informed us only at the last minute," said Howard Tutman, vice president of the county Parent-Teacher Association. He added that he would be disappointed if the board voted on the proposals in their current forms.
Mr. Greene said the administration had held seven public hearings on the proposal and had sent out fliers and notifications on the hearings to parents in November. "There has been information on the Web site, in the media, in schools and in newspapers," he said.
Mr. Tutman, whose daughter attends Woodmore Elementary in Mitchellville, said the proposed changes would move several children from the school to Lake Arbor Elementary one of the seven schools slated to open in the county this fall.
"These are children who have been there for four, five, six years, and now they will just be taken out. It can be traumatizing for the children," Mr. Tutman said.
Edythe Flemings Hall, president of the county's NAACP chapter, agreed that the administration's approach to the boundary changes was "chaotic and crisis-driven." However, she said, some disruption was inevitable. "There is no way around that. Some children will have to go to different schools boundary changes have to be made to balance out the population," she said.
The vote could be put on hold. Ms. Hall said she still was waiting yesterday for a briefing from the school system on the latest changes to the proposals. "If we do not get any information soon, we will not be in a position to give recommendations to the board" before tomorrow, she said.
A magnet expansion proposal in the county that is part of the boundary plans also has been criticized.
The 1998 agreement calls for strengthening the county's magnet program and the administration has proposed that Robert Goddard Middle and Edgar Allan Poe Elementary schools be converted into dedicated magnets. Large numbers of children also will be moved out of both schools to accommodate French immersion and Montessori programs at these schools.
"A majority of the parents are opposed to being kicked out of their school," said board member Felicia R. Lasley, District 7, who was scheduled to host a public hearing on the issue yesterday at Shadyside Elementary, one of the schools affected by the magnet expansion. She said she would not vote for the proposals on the magnet schools unless a suitable solution was found for those affected by the magnet expansion plan.
Ms. Hall agreed that the administration had not given enough consideration to parents in schools that stood to be converted to magnets. She said she was worried that parents didn't have an opportunity to discuss the impact on them. "Our concern is that magnets shouldn't disenfranchise comprehensive students," she said.
Some board members, however, say they need to act quickly to resolve issues before an August deadline set by the 1998 agreement. "I anticipate it will come to vote. We need to work out a whole host of things" before the start of the next school year, said board member Doyle Niemann, District 3.
He said several schools in his district would be affected by the changes, but he had not heard any overwhelming opposition to the proposals. "The controversy that has emerged is fairly limited no matter what we do, someone's going to be unhappy," Mr. Niemann said.

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