Almost 10 months to the day after the Howard County Board of Education charged the superintendent to embark on a comprehensive redistricting process, the final vote to move 5,320 students for next September is today.
On Monday, the school board took three straw votes to move a total of 5,320 students; however, the final number of students affected will change because rising juniors being grandfathered was not factored in at the time of the straw vote. The school board’s plan currently looks to move 2,827 elementary, 486 middle and 2,007 high school students.
The seven-member school board is expected to vote on a plan in its entirety, as well as voting on individual motions, during the regularly scheduled 4 p.m. meeting at the board’s headquarters in Ellicott City.
The process is intended 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, in Jessup.
After Superintendent Michael Martirano presented his initial proposal in August in which he recommended moving nearly 7,400 students, there were several public hearings for the community to have their voices heard. After the public input process concluded, there were seven school board sessions scheduled to work on the redistricting plan, with additional ones later added, ending Monday.
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 accepted 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.
» Howard County’s District 12 state senator and delegates released a joint statement regarding the school system’s ongoing redistricting process Oct. 17. State Sen. Clarence Lam and Dels. Eric Ebersole, Jessica Feldmark and Terri Hill said “we commend HCPSS Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano on offering a redistricting proposal that prioritizes balancing capacity utilization, advancing equity, and planning ahead for the upcoming boundary adjustments associated with the opening of High School #13.”
» The Board of Education held its first redistricting work session on Oct. 17. A motion proposed by school board member Vicky Cutroneo to exempt rising juniors from redistricting and provide transportation to those students was unanimously approved. School board member Jen Mallo added an amendment accepted by the board that parents would need to opt in for the transportation.
» A Howard County state senator and two delegates filed four bills Oct. 21 ahead of the 2020 General Assembly session to address school redistricting in the county and require homebuyers be made aware of redistricting. The bills will be sponsored individually by state Sen. Clarence Lam, Del. Eric Ebersole and Del. Terri Hill, all Democrats. Lam, who’s sponsoring two bills, released joint news releases, one with Ebersole and the other with Hill.
» On Oct. 28, the Board of Education held its second redistricting work session where potential boundary lines for the 13th high school and two board members’ high school-level proposals were discussed. Members Chao Wu and Jen Mallo presented formal plans.
» The third redistricting work session was held Oct. 30 at the Board of Education headquarters. High school-level plans by school board members Chao Wu and Jen Mallo were expanded upon, though no concrete decisions were made. During the session, the board scheduled an additional session for 1 p.m. Nov. 7 to continue discussing high schools, ahead of their regular meeting at 4 p.m.
» During the fourth redistricting work session Nov. 5, school board member Sabina Taj made a motion to start from Superintendent Michael Martirano’s proposal. The motion failed, 5-2, with only school board Chairwoman Mavis Ellis also voting in favor. Continuing on from previous work sessions, the school board members analyzed polygons to further chip away at high school redistricting.
» Motions regarding Howard County high schools in the ongoing redistricting process were made at the Board of Education’s afternoon work session Nov. 7. Two motions passed at the fifth session: one to move polygons 154, 214, 1154, 2154 and 97 from attending Centennial High to Marriotts Ridge High, and another to move polygons 171 and 1171 from Marriotts Ridge High to Glenelg High. School board member Jennifer Mallo also spoke at the beginning of the work session, addressing those in the audience and their behavior. “We have had people who aren’t here in the meeting … [and] have watched the audience’s behavior and have been horrified.”
» Eight days out from the scheduled redistricting vote, the Howard County Board of Education discussed potential moves at all grade levels at the Nov. 12 work session. After moving from high schools, the school board began analyzing polygon moves affecting various elementary and middle schools.
» Despite moving on to discussing potential elementary and middle school redistricting moves during the Nov. 12 work session, several motions were made Nov. 13 to potentially affect high schools. Motions included: move polygons 128 and 1128 from Atholton High to River Hill High; keep polygons 117, 1117, 118, 120 at Atholton High School; and keep polygons 81 and 2081 at Oakland Mills High School.
» One week from the redistricting vote, the Howard County Board of Education was divided on several decisions for elementary schools made during the Nov. 14 nine-hour work session. The divided votes caused several motions to fail, with only three of the seven school board members voting in favor of specific motions.
» Deemed the “final push” of redistricting opposition by organizers, a rally was held Nov. 16 at the Howard County Fairgrounds. Organizers said the purpose of the rally was to “come together as a county to oppose the current plan for the redistricting of Howard County schools.”
» The Howard County Board of Education took three straw votes Nov. 18 to move a total of 5,320 students for the 2020-21 academic year. After nine work sessions, the school board’s plan looks to move 2,827 elementary, 486 middle and 2,007 high school students. However, the final number of students affected will change because rising juniors being exempt from redistricting was not factored in for the straw votes.