Public hearing draws critics of school redistricting plan

The proposed Howard County elementary school redistricting could affect about 1,200 students, but it is a group of about 20 children that is causing the most frustration among parents in one Columbia neighborhood.

In the Kings Contrivance neighborhood of Dickinson, students attend Guilford Elementary School. With the proposed redistricting, students would be split into three schools: Guilford, Hammond and Atholton. In one part of the neighborhood, only about 20 students would remain at Guilford, while the rest would be moved to Hammond and Atholton.

"Splitting communities even further might seem like a good numbers solution, but it's not beneficial to students, or to the school," Guilford parent Amanda Higgins said. "If your backyard backs up into my backyard, we should go to the same school."

Higgins was one of nearly 40 residents and parents who testified before the Board of Education Tuesday, Nov. 8 in front of a standing-room-only audience of more than 100 people. Her plea to keep children in the same schools as the rest of their community was repeated throughout the evening by parents — and some students — from throughout the region being redistricted.

"I would lose a lot of my friends, even though I would make new friends at my new school," said 9-year-old Quincy Boateng, a fourth-grader at Atholton who would be redistricted to Hammond. "I know all the teachers and guidance counselors and principal … I won the school race three years in a row and I want to hold my record. Please don't change my school."

The redistricting plan was proposed Oct. 20 by Superintendent Sydney Cousin to alleviate overcrowding in elementary schools in eastern Howard by shifting students westward.

Parents of students attending Atholton, Hammond and Guilford elementary schools were the majority of those who testified Tuesday. They called for consistency in their children's schooling, arguing that not all decisions can be based on numbers and maps.

"It seems you're disrupting students to make a map prettier," Atholton parent Karen Caron said. "It bothers me that you're moving students out of Atholton, then students into Atholton."

Under the proposed plan, 211 students could be moved from Atholton to Hammond elementary, and Atholton would then absorb 78 students from Guilford.

Changes to schools in eastern Howard also drew criticism Tuesday night. Parents held up pink placards that declared "I Support Bollman Bridge PTA" as Jenny McAtee spoke on behalf of parents at the Jessup elementary school. She noted that while 53 students could be moved from Bollman Bridge to Guilford, Bollman Bridge would still be absorbing 89 students from Forest Ridge Elementary, in North Laurel, and 53 from Laurel Woods Elementary School, also in North Laurel.

"Bollman is gaining more children than we're losing," she said."(Maryland State Assessment) scores are projected to decline. (Students coming in) are score in the 70th percentile, Bollman is scoring in the 80th percentile …

"We wonder, how likely is it that those families will be present at the school, be involved in after-school groups, attend PTA meetings, or volunteer? … I beg of you, look at this issue from a child's perspective. It does not work for our children."

Even before the hearing, board members and school system staffers said, they were flooded with emails, letters and phone calls suggesting changes in the redistricting plan. After the hearing, manager of school planning, Joel Gallihue, said that input would be taken into account before a final decision is made.

The board will vote on the Cousin's recommendations Nov. 17. Before then, the board will hold work sessions Thursday, Nov. 10 and Tuesday, Nov. 15. An additional public hearing is scheduled for Nov. 15.

Complete redistricting plans and maps are available at

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