Baltimore County passes compromise redistricting plan for eight schools

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore County school board voted Tuesday night on a compromise redistricting plan for eight elementary schools on the east side that balances opposing needs in two communities.

The board voted to keep all current Orems Elementary School students in the school, but slightly more than 90 students from Shady Springs, a school to the northwest with a high minority enrollment, will be moved into Orems.

Orems will become 40 percent minority in the process.

The plan, passed by an 7-4 vote, will take effect during the 2018-2019 school year when a new building for Victory Villa Elementary is complete. Built to hold 700 students, the school will help relieve overcrowding at several schools, including Shady Springs.

The plan does not distribute students evenly around the area, however. Orems will remain with 111 students over capacity, while Middlesex Elementary will be 104 students below capacity.

The redistricting is an attempt by the county to adjust lines so that students are spread out more evenly in the area. Some boundaries are being moved eastward to fill empty seats at a couple of schools, including Hawthorne Elementary.

In the original plan, Orems Elementary was set to lose 64 students, who would have been shifted to Middlesex Elementary. Another 129 students were to be transferred to Orems from Shady Springs. Orems' minority population would have increased from 28 percent to 45 percent. The percentage of students who quality for a subsidized lunch would not have changed.

Many parents in the Orems community opposed the original plan. Children from their tight-knit community of modest single-family houses in Aero Acres have been going to the same school for generations, and parents said they didn't want their community to be divided.

They came up with a proposal that would have shifted a handful of their students to Middlesex and 25 students from Shady Spring to Orems. That proposal, which was taken directly to the school board, was never reviewed by the committee and did not receive its support.

Parents at surrounding schools said they believe objections were because most of the change involved increasing the minority population at Orems.

In public emails and in a petition, parents from a number of schools protested the moves. They said they believed their own children would be influenced by the bad behavior of children from other schools, that their property values would decline and that they didn't want to be bused out of the neighborhood for the sake of diversity.

Of the eight schools involved in the redistricting process, no school was left with exactly the same lines, but Orems had a greater number of students moving in and out of their school than most of the other schools.

Maryland was the third-most-segregated state in the nation for black students in 2014, according to the Civil Rights Project at the University of California at Los Angeles. Even as its population was growing more diverse, more than one-quarter of its public schools were highly segregated, according to the Maryland Equity Project at the University of Maryland.

In Baltimore County, one in five schools was more than 90 percent minority, a proportion that researchers describe as racially isolated.

Decades of research have shown that minority achievement increases in integrated schools. In segregated schools, students are more likely to find themselves with less experienced teachers and in less rigorous classes.

This story has been updated to accurately reflect the board's vote.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

@lizbowie

This story has been changed to reflect a 7-4 final vote count.

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