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No rising juniors in Howard County will be redistricted next school year, a result of the first decision made at the Board of Education work session Thursday night.

Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano presented a proposal in August to move nearly 7,400 students in a comprehensive redistricting process to combat school overcrowding, address inequities in the distribution of students affected by poverty and establish a road map for high school 13 in Jessup.

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The school board is expected to vote on a final plan Nov. 21. The plan will go into effect for the 2020-21 school year.

During the first work session Thursday, the school board reached a consensus without needing to vote to use current boundary lines as a starting point when making redistricting decisions.

After a lengthy discussion, a motion proposed by school board member Vicky Cutroneo to exempt rising juniors from redistricting and provide transportation to those students was unanimously approved. However, school board member Jen Mallo added “a friendly amendment” accepted by the school board that parents would need to opt in for the transportation.

There would be an additional transportation cost to continue busing some students to their current school, with other children in the same neighborhood going on a different bus to attend another school. During the last redistricting process, for the 2018-2019 school year, rising eighth graders were exempt from being moved; however the school system did not provide transportation. No high school students were redistricted at that time.

A motion by school board member Christina Delmont-Small to “keep current walkers [children who walk to their respective schools] as defined by policy to remain as walkers” failed with a 4-3 vote.

Delmont-Small received applause from most audience members when she said “it doesn’t make sense” to take current walkers and put them on a school bus.

School system administration will provide additional information about walkers, allowing for the issue to potentially be considered at a later date.

The remaining work sessions are scheduled for Oct. 28 and 30 and Nov. 5, 12, 14 and 18.

For the Oct. 28 work session, the school board will begin to discuss the 12 high schools from east to west and receive more information from school system officials about the future boundary lines for the county’s 13th high school.

At the beginning of the meeting, most school board members made an opening statement about redistricting. Cutroneo and school board member Sabina Taj did not make opening statements.

Mallo gave a brief PowerPoint presentation where she laid out how overcrowded schools would be at all levels if redistricting does not happen for the 2020-21 academic year.

The target capacity utilization for the school system is to have schools between 90% to 110% capacity.

Without redistricting, 10,000 students across grade levels would be attending a school at 120% capacity or above next September, and 21,000 students would be attending a school over 110% capacity, according to Mallo.

School board Chairwoman Mavis Ellis said the school has “listened attentively” to all public testimony over the past two months.

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After seven public hearings, approximately 580 students, parents and community members testified before the school board, according to online sign-in sheets.

“We recognize that not only our community, including our children, but the world is listening,” Ellis said.

Delmont-Small stressed for community members to continue to send in input. While public hearings have ended, written testimony is being accepted until Nov. 19.

“This is not a pretty process, but it’s a process here in Howard County we have before us and we have to get through it,” Delmont-Small said.

It is important to school board member Chao Wu to keep student walkers as walkers, keep communities together and improve socioeconomic statuses at schools.

All board members disclosed whether they have children in the school system, whether their children could be affected and whether their neighborhood could be affected in the redistricting process.

Mallo and Ellis do not have children in Howard schools, but their neighborhoods could be affected. Taj, Cutroneo, Coombs and Delmont-Small will have children in the school system next year, but their neighborhoods would not be affected. Wu’s children and his neighborhood could be affected by redistricting.

State Sen. Clarence Lam and Dels. Eric Ebersole, Jessica Feldmark and Terri Hill said they “commend” Martirano on his proposal and “encourage the members of the [school] Board to balance all three of these key priorities in the final approved redistricting plan.”

On Tuesday, Lam and state Sens. Katie Fry Hester and Guy Guzzone, the remaining two state senators of the Howard County delegation to the General Assembly, released a joint statement about redistricting.

The senators stressed their statement was not an endorsement of anything, rather said they have “an ongoing interest” as elected officials.

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