Parents Voice Outrage on Redistricting

Parents Voice Outrage on Redistricting

North Arlington parents call on school board to find alternatives.

Parents blasted School Board officials Thursday night over the proposed redistricting of North Arlington elementary schools.

The school board appointed a committee on Sept. 9 to study possible changes to the boundaries that determine where students attend school. The proposed changes are a response to an anticipated overcrowding problem outlined in school board statistics.

Many parents at Long Branch Elementary are outraged at the idea their children could be bused to new and unfamiliar schools.

Schools that may be affected by the changes include Ashlawn, Barrett, Glebe, Jamestown, Key, Long Branch, McKinley, Nottingham, Taylor, Tuckahoe, and Science Focus elementary schools.

The committee examining boundary changes is considering several boundary schemes, and cautions parents that nothing, at this time, is set in stone. Yet, some parents say any solution that causes their children to be relocated is unacceptable.

"These scenarios have become part of the public's dialogue, but elementary school boundary changes are not the answer to our capacity issues in North Arlington schools," said Laura Saul Edwards, a parent from Nottingham Elementary, which is projected to remain within its capacity.

Edwards said the committee should look at "better managing the current and projected school population in North Arlington" rather than redistricting. "Emphasis should be placed on moving county wide programs from over-crowded schools to under-utilized schools."

The committee is expected to present its recommendations to Superintendent Robert Smith in December. The board would then act on its advice during the spring semester. If approved, the changes would go into effect in September 2005.

PARENTS RALLIED in Lyon Park Wednesday, Oct. 6, to speak out against the boundary changes during National Walk to School Day. For students who might be moved from Long Branch Elementary, according to parents, walking to school could become impossible.

"The Long Branch community, everybody walks to school there, and under some of the scenarios that are being considered, students in the Ashton Heights neighborhood would be redistricted to a school that is across Glebe Road, which the prospect of crossing is inconceivable," said Thom Banks, whose two children both attend Long Branch. "Given that it is a busy traffic area, the logic of taking kids away from their community school and to one where they must be bused in order to attend and separated from their playmates just doesn't make sense."

On the overcrowding issue, Banks said many parents question the board's statistics. Nottingham Elementary, for example, was listed on the Arlington Public School's web site as one of the schools in danger of exceeding capacity but is only expected to do so by a margin of six students. Nottingham has since been removed from that list.

"There is a real question about the accuracy and validity of those numbers and before any of these issues are considered, we need to make sure we have accurate numbers in order to make decisions that benefit all North Arlington schools and not just look at all of them in microcosm," Banks said.

The board also heard an impassioned plea from Allisa Burson Ellison, another Long Branch parent, who said forcing her son to attend a new school would cause him undue emotional trauma.

"A computer model can shift students from one school to another but it cannot measure the human cost of these changes to a child," said Ellison, who urged the board to hold a hearing on the boundary changes.

"You haven't seen joy until you've see my son riding his bike to school in the morning," she said. "Without knowing it, you could snatch that joy that away from him by putting him on a bus and send him into a strange neighborhood. That would also be a colossal waste of tax payer money."

IN OTHER BUSINESS, the school board honored support staff. Marilyn Taylor, a 12-year veteran of Arlington Public Schools who now serves as an administrative assistant to the superintendent of instruction, was awarded Support Staff Employee of the Year. Superintendent Robert Smith said Taylor "supports everyone with whom she comes in contact in order to fulfill the mission of the Arlington Public Schools."

Taylor was a student in Arlington schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.

"It's somewhat counter-intuitive for me to be here in the limelight," she said. "I'm always more comfortable working in the shadows, behind the scenes."