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Howard County Times
Howard County

Howard school board approves redistricting plan to fill new Jessup high school and reduce system overcrowding

After months of work sessions and public feedback, the Howard County Board of Education on Thursday adopted a redistricting plan for the 2023-2024 school year to reduce overcrowding at several high schools and populate the county’s 13th high school when it opens in Jessup next fall.

The plan was passed in a series of eight motions, corresponding to each school-to-school transfer of students, with board member Yun Lu opposing one motion and board member Christina Delmont-Small voting against all eight.

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“I think we could have come up with a better solution and we didn’t,” said Delmont-Small, who represents District 1 and many of the Elkridge residents reassigned by the plan, after Thursday’s meeting. “It’s important that we try to have students go to the schools that are closer to them and we weren’t able to do that.”

About 2,555 projected high school students, 60% of whom will be sent to high school 13, are reassigned under the plan.

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Almost 800 rising freshmen and sophomores from Hammond, Howard and Long Reach high schools will form the inaugural ninth- and 10th grade classes at the new high school, which is set to open with an initial enrollment capacity of 1,592. The plan also relieves capacity at Mount Hebron and Reservoir high schools by transferring students to Howard and Hammond high schools, respectively.

A table showing the sending and receiving schools and the number of students affected by the Board of Education’s approved redistricting plan.

With four high schools over 110% utilization and more than 250 portable classrooms in use across the school system, the board aimed to take advantage of space created by high school 13 and an addition at Hammond High School.

After the redistricting, school officials project all county high schools below 110% utilization through the 2029-2030 school year.

Much of that capacity balancing was achieved by sending students from the Elkridge area in the county’s northeast to the new high school in the southeast, a decision that received pushback from community members who have long sought their own high school.

“I remain disappointed that the Board of Education’s redistricting plan for high school 13 fails to account for a future high school in the Elkridge area,” County Executive Calvin Ball said in an email Friday. “The redistricting of overgreater Elkridge area students to a high school in the southern part of the county provides a clear sign that efforts to advance and deliver an Elkridge area high school must continue.”

In October 2020, Ball announced Troy Park as the county’s preferred site for high school 14 to serve Elkridge residents. The school board reinserted this planned school in its 10-year master plan in September. But with funding the construction of another high school at least a decade away, the board said it had to take advantage of available capacity in the southeast now.

“The challenge was that for where we had the need for capacity, the [new] school wasn’t located there,” said Delmont-Small, who voted against placing high school 13 in Jessup. “We were already making the best out of a not-ideal situation, as far as location.”

After Superintendent Michael Martirano presented his initial redistricting proposal on Sept. 1, a number of officials, including Ball and County Council Chair Opel Jones, said the plan ignored groundwork done on high school 14 and would disproportionately impact Elkridge residents.

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In a series of public hearings, community members echoed officials’ concerns and said the plan would lead to a difficult commute for Elkridge residents down Route 1 to high school 13 and prevent students from engaging in after-school activities. The plan also left Elkridge students attending the new school on a geographic “island,” separated from their peers to the south by Oakland Mills High School’s zone.

The Board of Education-approved map for redistricted high school areas ahead of the opening of the county’s 13th high school in Jessup next fall.

Members of the community presented several proposals that kept Elkridge students at Long Reach and Howard high schools. The board rejected these plans after school staff said they would not fully use the new school and additional space at Hammond High school, jeopardizing state funding for new capital projects down the road.

Despite the public’s concerns, the board moved forward with the superintendent’s proposal with slight modifications Oct. 13 and officially adopted it Thursday.

“From the beginning, we were hoping for a different outcome but I think most of the community here has accepted the decision,” said Elkridge Hanover resident and HCPSS parent Becki Vivrette, 39, who led the group that created the alternative scenarios. “Now we’re trying to move forward positively with the Jessup and Savage community that we’ll be going to school with.”

Vivrette, whose oldest son will enter high school 13 in the fall of 2025, started a Facebook page to help Elkridge and Jessup parents to get to know one another before the school opens. She hopes they can arrange meet-and-greets and start collaborating on transportation and other activities.

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“I think the next topic that people are focused on is the name of the school,” she added.

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On Thursday, school staff presented the results of a survey that generated more than 1,100 suggested names for high school 13. After reviewing feedback, a naming committee composed of 37 community stakeholders put forward “Quarry Heights High School” as its official recommendation.

A public hearing for feedback on name suggestions will be held Dec. 5 in the Board of Education room.

In addition to setting boundaries, the board also exempted a number of students from being redistricted. While all rising 12th graders are automatically excluded from the process, the board voted to offer exemptions to rising 11th graders, who will have the choice to continue attending their current school or be reassigned.

On Monday, the board voted 4-3 to also exempt rising 10th graders, with the exception of those assigned to high school 13. The move drew criticism from some parents, who said all rising sophomores had suffered equally under COVID-19 and deserved the opportunity to stay at their current high schools.

“I’m glad for the [high school 13] ninth graders that they won’t be the only ones at the new school,” said Elkridge resident Meg Ricks, 41, whose daughter is a Howard freshman and will be redistricted to high school 13. “But it does feel kind of like they’re singling out particular communities that they wanted to keep happy and other communities that they didn’t care about as much.”

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Additional exemptions were approved for students with Individualized Education Programs or 504 disability plans, students with one or more parents on active military duty and younger siblings of students who choose one of the grade-level exemptions and will overlap in high school.

To learn more about redistricting for the 2023-2024 school year, go to: https://www.hcpss.org/school-planning/redistricting-for-23-24/.


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