By Sara Toth, firstname.lastname@example.org
1:30 PM EST, November 5, 2013
More than three dozen Howard County parents and students turned out to speak their minds on the proposal to move more than 1,100 students to new middle schools next year.
Monday night was the second and final public hearing on the matter, and though testimony can be submitted to the Board of Education until Tuesday, Nov. 19, many took the opportunity to speak out against, or in favor, of Superintendent Renee Foose's plan redistricting plan.
Chief among the testimony was a support to keep neighborhoods south of Route 216 together, regardless of whether those students attend Lime Kiln or Hammond middle schools, and, like last time, mixed reaction to redistricting Wilde Lake into Clarksville middle schools, keeping students in the Meadow Ridge Landing community at Mayfield Woods rather than the new middle school and stark disagreement over whether or not to send Murray Hill students to Patuxent Valley and the splitting of the Emerson neighborhood in North Laurel.
In the Meadow Ridge Landing neighborhood, arguments were the same: moving students from Mayfield Woods to the new middle school means a long, highly-trafficked route to school and isolates them from their community.
"This is wrong and dangerous," said Mayfield Woods parents Michelle Ray. "We would be subjecting our children to rush hour traffic on a dangerous, overcrowded highway ... It's not safe and it's a huge liability that is not worth the risk."
Also last week, numerous Murray Hill parents spoke out against sending their children to Patuxent Valley — a school, they said, with lower academic standards. It was a theme repeated Monday, with even students offering their voices.
"I don't want to go to a school where I won't be challenged academically," said Murray Hill sixth-grader Aryss Lindsey.
Patuxent Valley parents, however, took umbrage over the negativity being directed at their school.
"Every school in Howard County is great," said Patuxent Valley parent Christine Dietrich. "Seriously, we all need to get a grip. My message to any parent that takes issue with going to a school that they deem less successful is to work with the community, school administration, parents and students to address those issues, not run from them."
Edward Bauer, a father of three adult daughters who are Patuxent Valley graduates, and the father of a sixth-grader at the school, said Patuxent Valley has grown and improved over the years.
"We'd love to have (the Emerson residents) come to Patuxent Valley," he said. "They seem passionate about their kids, which can only be a plus for Patuxent Valley."
Other Emerson residents said the true issue lies in the proposed splitting of the community — half would go to Patuxent Valley and the other, remain at Murray Hill. Another issue is distance, as Murray Hill is closer to their neighborhood.
Huntington residents also turned out for the hearing, as their Bollman Bridge Elementary (and Murray Hill middle) students could be part of the shift to Patuxent Valley.
"To split up the Bollman Bridge groups, half to Murray Hill and half to Patuxent Valley, only to come back to Hammond High Shcool would be disruptive and have a detrimental effect," said Huntington resident Raquel Braithwaite.
Emotions did run high at the hearing, but several parents urged the board to take emotions out of the equation and focus only on the facts. The fact, for example, that Wilde Lake is overcrowded and needs relief, though it is not in Foose's proposal for redistricting.
"When a plant gets too big, a gardener transplants it," said Wilde Lake parent Michael Walsh. "It benefits not only that plant, but the plants around it. It would be to the benefit of all the kids, not just the kids who are moving."
In the same way, redistricting can have a negative impact on all students, not just the ones who are redistricted, said parents in the communities south of Route 216, who are split between Lime Kiln and Hammond middle schools in Foose's proposal. The feasibility study, many pointed out, suggested moving all students in that region to Lime Kiln, and many spoke in favor of that plan.
"Minimizing the students moved does not minimize disruption," said Fulton Elementary School mother Christina Musser, whose family was redistricted into Fulton only two years ago, and could stand to be moved from Hammond to Lime Kiln. "Splitting up the community would whittle away familiar support systems our students have relied on. ... This was a golden opportunity to create strong feeds you started two years ago in moving us all to Fulton. Please finish what was started."