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Mays Chapel residents appeal school board's site selection

The controversial site selection for a new Mays Chapel school is being challenged on issue of whether proper notice was given for the school board's public hearing.

An attorney representing the Save Mays Chapel Park Committee and the Dulaney Townhome Condominium Association said he filed an appeal on Tuesday, April 3, to the state Board of Education regarding the process surrounding the Baltimore County Board of Education's decision to build a 700-seat elementary school in Mays Chapel.

"We are saying that the decision — preliminary approval of the site and the final approval of the site — isn't proper, because they haven't followed the law in advertising (for) a public hearing in accordance with what we understand the law to be," said Alan Zukerberg, the attorney representing the organizations.

Zukerberg said he received a letter from the Board of Education's attorney saying they advertised the meeting via a media announcement and on the BCPS website.

Additionally, school spokesman Charles Herndon said Tuesday that his understanding was that the details were published in news stories in both the Towson Times and the Baltimore Sun.

But Zukerberg said he saw no notice for the meeting in the legal notices section of local papers.

"We think public notice should have been properly advertised in a newspaper of general circulation in Baltimore County," Zukerberg said, in reference to the education article of the annotated code of Maryland. "It's our understanding that no such notice was given. We don't think that the board should get around the fact that the law requires a properly advertised public hearing."

The public meeting was announced on March 6, the day the school board originally planned to vote on the school site. The location was announced on March 7, and the meeting was held on March 19 — a day before the board ultimately voted to approve the site.

Hundreds attended the March 19 meeting, many of whom oppose a school being built on the 20-acre, county-owned park site off West Padonia Road in Mays Chapel.

"When you look at the number of people there, that alone tells you that there was enough advertising, and a good turnout resulted," Herndon said.

Herndon said the public hearing is not typically part of the process, but was added to the schedule in response to concerns from the Mays Chapel residents.

But Angelo Del Negro, co-chair of the Save Mays Chapel Park Committee, said the board's "mind was made up" at that point.

"You couldn't digest everything that was said — and a lot of it was factual-driven — you couldn't digest that overnight," he said.

Zukerberg told the Times that he filed the appeal on April 3, and also challenged what he calls a lack of information given to the community.

He said he filed Freedom of Information requests to both the school board and the county government, with the school board's response being "very unsatisfactory."

"The county attorney's office is not being picayune and is responding reasonably, as opposed to what I believe is a stonewall response from the board," Zukerberg said.

Zukerberg said residents of Mays Chapel simply want to see the information the board used to make their decision.

"We would like to be included and allowed to share in data and information for us to verify that this board has really explored all of the available options, including the Dulaney Springs site, as well as a number of other sites and the additional options of building onto existing schools so kids can stay in their neighborhoods," Zukerberg said.

Del Negro said such a request is based on the idea that Mays Chapel residents "don't think the Board of Education did its homework."

"It just appears to some of us that they've drawn a conclusion, and they're trying to backfill the facts," Del Negro said.

Herndon said the school system would be "happy to answer any of the questions that the state might have, or anyone from the Mays Chapel community."

"We've been over-and-above board the whole time, and we'll continue to answer questions anyone has about the process," he said.

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