Howard County currently is undergoing a comprehensive redistricting process to combat school overcrowding, address inequities in the distribution of students affected by poverty and establish a road map for the eventual opening of the county’s 13th high school.
Here’s a list of events and moments that have shaped the process so far, and what is still to come before the plan is final.
» On Jan. 24, the Howard County Board of Education unanimously approved a measure directing Superintendent Michael Martirano to begin a comprehensive redistricting process for all grade levels across the school system. Martirano agreed with the seven-member board, saying redistricting is needed to address countywide student enrollment.
» The Howard County Public School System released its feasibility study on June 13. The study, which provides a 10-year student enrollment projection for Howard schools, showed an enrollment increase of 6,700 students over the next decade. The presentation of the study officially kicked off the school system’s redistricting. The school board unanimously approved having the review process begin at this meeting.
» The school system provided surveys to the public for feedback on the feasibility study and to provide alternate options from June 14 to Aug. 1.
» Four community input sessions were held on July 10, 13, 16 and 18 for residents to provide feedback to the superintendent about the redistricting process.
» A week before the school system was scheduled to release its redistricting plan, three County Council members called on the school system to develop a plan to “desegregate” its schools. The council members on Aug. 13 asked for the school system to “comprehensively address the socioeconomic and racial segregation in Howard County public schools through a meaningful redistricting process.” Council Chairwoman Christiana Mercer Rigby said if the school system can balance student capacity in all schools as well as balance out students who participate in the free and reduced-price meals program, “we would improve education outcome.”
» Superintendent Martirano was initially scheduled to present his recommendations for the countywide redistricting process on Aug. 20. However, due to technical difficulties, the livestream was not working and the presentation had to be postponed.
» On Aug. 22, Martirano released his redistricting proposal in which he recommended moving nearly 7,400 students. The proposal is looking to reassign approximately 7,396 students, including 3,194 elementary, 1,351 middle and 2,851 high school students. This is the first comprehensive redistricting plan in the county’s history, Martirano said. In years prior, redistricting has been “limited in scope,” he said, as the decisions were made around the opening of new schools.
» Beginning Aug. 21 and lasting through 4:30 p.m. Nov. 19, the Board of Education will accept receive written testimony via United States Postal Service mail and email.
» Howard County Executive Calvin Ball released his first statement on the redistricting proposal on Sept. 13. “We need thoughtful, comprehensive redistricting that will help foster the best teaching and learning environment for our children and educators,” Ball said.
» Community members participated in a walk Sept. 14 to protest the redistricting plan near The Mall in Columbia just days before the first public hearing on the issue.
» Kathryn McKinley, River Hill High School’s principal, wrote in a Sept. 17 email to the school’s community that a student had made “a very serious and direct threat” on social media toward a Howard County Public School System official relating to the redistricting process. A 15-year-old sophomore at the Clarksville school posted a death threat targeting Superintendent Martirano, Howard County police confirmed. Through an investigation, police determined it was not a legitimate threat but rather “was made as a ‘joke’ by the student.”
» At the first public hearing concerning the redistricting process on Sept. 17, 69 community members, including parents and students, testified before the school board over a nearly four-hour period. The hearing was for families who currently attend Centennial, Howard, Mt. Hebron and Oakland Mills high schools, plus their respective feeder middle and elementary schools. Outside of the Board of Educations headquarters before the hearing, protesters gathered with colorful T-shirts and signs to voice their thoughts and concerns on redistricting.
Students and parents protest the Howard County Public School redistricting plan at the first of three planned public hearings.
» The Howard County Council and Board of Education met Sept. 23 to discuss the ongoing redistricting process, the school system’s impending capital budget and other issues. The school system is projecting transportation costs will be around $1.1 million after the redistricting process is complete, according to David Ramsay, the school system’s transportation director.
» Over four-plus hours on Sept. 24, 82 community members, including students and parents, testified at the Board of Education headquarters for the second public hearing about redistricting. The hearing was for families whose children attend the Columbia-area high schools of Atholton, Hammond, Long Reach or Wilde Lake, as well as any of their feeder schools. A similar protest to the one at the first hearing occurred. While Sophia Leshchyshyn, a junior at Atholton High School, is not being proposed to be redistricted, she is concerned about how the move will affect extracurricular programs. “We will be a completely different school and we will need to rebuild all of our extracurricular programs from the ground up,” she said.
» The third redistricting hearing on Sept. 26 was for families whose children attend River Hill, Reservoir, Marriotts Ridge or Glenelg high schools, including their feeder schools. During her testimony, Marriotts Ridge sophomore Mahee Patel asked the school board a question: “If students redistricted into Marriotts Ridge do not want to go to Marriotts Ridge and students redistricted out of Marriotts Ridge don’t want to leave, then what is the point?” Community members protested on the grass outside the Board of Education headquarters like they had done at the previous hearings.
» Because 516 community members signed up to testify for the third public redistricting hearing, the session was broken up over several nights. Those hearings — for families whose children attend River Hill, Reservoir, Marriotts Ridge or Glenelg high schools, including their feeder schools — were held Oct. 7, 10, 14 and 15 at the Board of Education headquarters.
» The Howard County Council on Oct. 7 voted on a series of bills and resolutions, including their call on the school system to “desegregate” its schools. The resolution passed 4-1. Councilman David Yungmann, the lone Republican on the council, voted against the resolution. The establishment of a task force to examine the demographic and socioeconomic conditions within the school system and the county housing policies and regulations was taken out of the approved resolution.
» The three state senators of the Howard County delegation to the General Assembly released a joint statement Oct. 15 about the ongoing redistricting process, stressing they were not endorsing any specific proposal. State Sens. Katie Fry Hester, Clarence Lam and Guy Guzzone, all Democrats, said they have “an ongoing interest” in the Howard County Public School System’s redistricting process as elected officials, even though they have no role in approving a plan.
» The Board of Education is scheduled to have seven public work sessions to discuss the redistricting proposal. The first work session will begin Oct. 17 during the 7 p.m. hour of the general Board of Education meeting. The remaining work sessions are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 28 and 30 and Nov. 5, 12, 14 and 18. Members of the public may attend but will not be allowed to participate. The board is expected to make a preliminary decision during the final work session.