Parents protest school boundary change at heated meeting
Board set to vote on plan late this month
During a heated meeting Tuesday night with Prince George's County school board members, parents launched a barrage of protests against a proposal that would redraw school boundary lines throughout the county.
At the meeting at Suitland High School in Forestville, school board representatives presented a plan that would redraw boundaries for as many as 67 schools, allowing the county to better direct resources toward education instead of maintenance at schools that are under-enrolled and reduce the number of students to rid buses to school.
But angry parents took to the podium demanding to know why their children were going to be placed in schools further away from their homes. Some parents compared students being taken from schools where they have already connected with staff to scenes from the musical "Annie," where the title character was ripped away from her foster home and placed with a new family.
Karen Hicks of Oxon Hill, whose children attend Oxon Hill Elementary School, told the school board she is even willing to separate from her husband and become homeless so she can have a choice to keep her children at the same school.
"I will go to those lengths to ensure that my kids go to Oxon Hill Elementary," she said.
If approved, students would be transferred to neighboring schools beginning in the 2009-2010 school year. Schools that have an increase of 100 students or more would receive an additional $432,000 in funding from the school district. The school board is scheduled to vote on the boundary changes during a special meeting on April 21.
At the meeting, parents said school board officials have been slow to give proper notice to parents at certain schools that would be impacted and that the redrawing the boundary lines would lead to overcrowding with some classes reaching 40 students.
Derek Mitchell, the county's executive director of new schools, said that the average class size would remain the same at about 25 students per teacher for third-grade classes and above, and 22 students per teacher in second-grade classes and lower.
Interim Superintendent William Hite reiterated that the boundary plan has not been finalized and that parental feedback will be incorporated into the final proposal.
"No decisions have been made about boundaries at this time," he said. "I have not seen a situation in elementary schools where there is a class size of 35 or 40."
Under the first phase of the proposal, during the 2009-2010 school year, schools' capacity would increase from 73 to 85 percent, which would affect schools inside the Capital Beltway in the central and southern parts of the county extending down the Route 210 corridor into Accokeek.
Subsequent phases, during the 2010 and 2011 school years, will be focused outside the Beltway, extending into the northern and eastern parts of the county.
The plan would allow a portion of students to travel to schools closer to their neighborhood, but parents say some of the redistricting in the proposal would actually take students further from their communities.
"Who walked the boundaries to decide where the cutoff would be?" asked Jackie Dixon of Temple Hills. Her child currently walks to Panorama Elementary in Temple Hills but under the proposal would need to take a bus to Overlook Elementary School, which is two miles away.
"Parents are upset about how quickly this is moving," she said. "Is it really saving money in the long-term?"
The school board is also in the midst of closing eight schools in a plan designed to save $5 million during the 2009-2010 school year and more than $94 million in total throughout the next 10 years.
The next boundary proposal meeting is at 6 p.m. April 2 at the Sasscer Administration building in Upper Marlboro.
E-mail Joshua Garner at firstname.lastname@example.org.