- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 26, 2002

Nearly 7,000 students will attend neighborhood schools next fall, after the Prince George's County school board voted Thursday night to change the boundaries for 63 elementary and middle schools.

The board voted 9-0 in favor of the boundary changes, which they say will relieve overcrowding in some schools. The vote also cleared the way for the opening of seven new schools in the county this fall.

More than 100 public speakers, including students from the schools affected, jammed the meeting to air their views on the proposed changes. In the end, the board approved the administration's plan with just a few changes.

Some parents had earlier said that the changes were too disruptive and would take their children away from schools they had attended for several years. Others had also objected to what they said was the administration's delay in informing them about the changes.

"The community must be informed early in the process. This process has not been a positive reflection on the school system," said Wanda Blachburn of the Prince George's County Council of PTAs.

Administrators said they worked hard to please everyone.

"Could we have done a better job? Absolutely. Were we in a hurry? Absolutely," said schools Superintendent Iris T. Metts.

Thousands of children in the county now live in forced-busing zones formed after a 1972 court ruling to create racial balance.

In 1998, the county, the school system and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People signed a Memorandum of Understanding to phase out busing with the building of 13 new schools and returning children to neighborhood schools.

The 1998 agreement calls for strengthening the county's magnet program, and the administration proposed that Robert Goddard Middle and Edgar Allan Poe Elementary schools be converted into dedicated magnets. Large numbers of children would be moved out of both schools to accommodate French immersion and Montessori programs at these schools.

A vote on changes at Poe was postponed at the request of board member Felicia Lasley, District 7. Mrs. Lasley said parents of students were upset they would be "kicked out" if Poe became a magnet.

Robert Goddard Middle School, however, will be converted to a magnet for Montessori and French-immersion programs a decision that did not sit well with parents who said their children would now be bused out of the community. "This goes against the very principle of the Memorandum of Understanding," said Michelle Diggs, the PTSA president of Robert Goddard.

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