“The Contentious Process of School Redistricting”

-the following article was submitted by District 7A Delegates Kathy Szeliga and Ryan Nawrocki-

School redistricting can be one of a school board’s most contentious processes. Baltimore County is facing overcrowding and planning for the grand opening of the new Northeast middle school for the 2024-2025 school year located at Nottingham Park in Rosedale.

In addition to the new school being built, Pine Grove Middle School is being expanded and renovated with an expected completion of December 2024. All boundary changes will take effect for the 2024-2025 school year.

A concerning part of this boundary study is that a part of the governing rules detail in Policy 1280 III B that the members of any school boundary committee must include “two parents from each of the affected schools who are recommended by the school principal”. The 46 elementary schools potentially affected by the boundary changes did not have representation on the committee. Only current middle school parents were included in this workgroup.

As you know, the decisions made in school boundary changes are critical to the families and students impacted. And the decisions made can also impact property values and consequently the lives of many more people than the families potentially redistricted. Parents are telling us about their fears of their children being uprooted after struggling academically, socially, and emotionally through the pandemic.

Many parents have shared with us the difference in performance metrics and academic supports between the middle school they anticipated their child would attend and the potential new school(s). An issue of particular concern is for parents who have children with disabilities.

In addition, a stated priority in any redistricting decision is that students have continuity between elementary, middle, and high schools. High suspension rates and safety concerns have been raised as well.

As a result, we signed a bipartisan letter addressed to the Superintendent and the School Board expressing our strong opposition to various proposals which would divide communities and the implementation of this boundary study. A proposal of splitting the Perry Hall and Kingsville communities in half along Belair Road to different middle schools is just one example of the impact of these proposed boundary changes that do not honor historical neighborhoods or aim for
compactness. Concerns about the population distribution of the new middle school have also been heard in our office regularly.

The Superintendent’s response to these concerns was that the Northeast/Central Boundary Study is being conducted like any other redistricting proposal. And ultimately, that Rule 1280 could not be amended until the policy is up for review in the year 2026. We agree with numerous parents and PTAs that we do not find this to be a satisfactory response. We are concerned that this specific boundary study aimed to accomplish more than what could be reasonably managed at one time.

To be exact, this particular study seeks to alleviate overcrowding, fill a new school building, close another school, and move all students currently enrolled in ESOL programs back to their home schools. That requires multiple shifting parts and a resulting enormous impact upon a large swath of families across Baltimore County.

Could these various needs have been addressed in a more staggered approach? Also, if the boundary study had not been so large then there could have been an equal representation of elementary school parents on the voting committee.

It has been very disconcerting to note that boundary committee members did not have attendance requirements for the public input sessions. And more importantly, they were not all required to be in attendance at voting sessions! Therefore, the middle school parents that were meant to at least represent the neighborhood communities of elementary school parents were not truly required to be present for the entirety of the process.

As state legislators who work daily in voting committees, we know the power of one voice and the power of representation. We do not feel that elementary parents have been adequately represented throughout this process.

There is a public hearing on May 17 to comment on the proposed boundary changes before the Baltimore County Board of Education. We encourage all concerned constituents to attend the meeting and to email the board directly at boe@bcps.org.

Residents can view the recommendation being proposed to the Board of Education by visiting an interactive mapping tool found online. Select Middle School Option E Zones and type in your home address to see your proposed new middle school. We will continue to keep an eye on the process and seek out a fair system for all impacted communities.

B.J. Joseph

Benjamin Joesph has covered news in Eastern Baltimore County since 2006. He started as a reporter with the original East County Times in 2006. He started East Baltco News and later Eastcountytimes.com in 2022.

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