A Howard County Board of Education member urged residents at the beginning of the third redistricting hearing Thursday night to “exercise civility and be kind through this emotional process.”
“Our children are watching and listening, and it is up to the adults to be a positive role model and that goes for whatever your feel; do not demonize the other side, listen to people patiently and please, please treat everyone with respect as you would deserve,” Vice Chairwoman Kirsten Coombs said.
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.
The school board is scheduled to vote on a plan Nov. 21.
Of the 108 community members who testified Thursday night over five-plus hours, 83 were students, with a majority from River Hill High, Mount View Middle and Clarksville Middle schools. Students from all grade levels addressed their concerns about loss of sleep if they are moved to a different school and the effects on climate change by having students being bused greater distances.
Folly Quarter Middle seventh grader Ishaan Busireddy said the redistricting proposal would ruin his high school dreams of attending River Hill.
“I have always thought of River Hill as my high school. … The plan would crush my dreams,” he said. Under the plan, he would attend Glenelg instead of River Hill.
The recommendations also “will take 1,000 hours of my life due to transportation,” he said.
“Time is precious, and I want to use it wisely, by studying and contributing to society and not commuting.”
Thursday night’s redistricting hearing, the third in the past 10 days, was for families whose children attend River Hill, Reservoir, Marriotts Ridge or Glenelg high schools, including their feeder schools.
Earlier this month, Howard police confirmed that a sophomore at River Hill posted a death threat against Martirano concerning redistricting on TikTok, a popular video app.
None of Thursday’s testimony expressed support for the current proposal, the first hearing at which no resident was in favor.
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?”
Mahee would attend Glenelg for her final two years of high school, according to the proposal. She has been on Marriotts Ridge’s volleyball team for the past two years but if moved to Glenelg, she would not be able to participate in sports or any other after-school activity because her parents would not be able to pick her up.
Marriotts Ridge would send 57 students to Glenelg while receiving 82 students from Mt. Hebron High.
Under the proposal, 478 River Hill students would be moved to either Glenelg or Wilde Lake. The Clarksville high school would receive 741 students, with 513 coming from Atholton High, 132 from Wilde Lake and 96 from Reservoir.
Reservoir is being recommended to not receive any students, and Glenelg is being proposed to not send any students to a different high school.
Because 516 community members signed up to testify for Thursday’s hearing, the session has been broken up over several nights. One of the remaining hearings is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Oct. 7. Additional hearings will be announced in the near future.
On Tuesday, 82 community members and students testified from Atholton, Hammond, Long Reach and Wilde Lake high schools, plus their respective feeder middle and elementary schools. On Sept. 17, 69 students and residents testified about Centennial, Howard, Mt. Hebron and Oakland Mills high schools and their feeder schools.
Approximately 300 community members were protesting on the grass outside the Board of Education headquarters. It was a sea of blue, yellow and green T-shirts, some representing specific county neighborhoods.
Roughly 65 residents were wearing blue shirts with yellow lettering that read “Keep Maple Lawn Together” with a yellow maple tree in the middle, followed by a quote from Martirano: “Keep school boundaries contiguous and maintain neighborhood schools.”
The entire quote can be found on the school system’s website in Martirano’s letter to the community on Aug. 22, the night he presented his proposal.
He wrote, “[The proposal] also considers our desire to keep school boundaries contiguous, and maintain neighborhood schools and walkable distances for as many students as possible.”
In the proposal, parts of Maple Lawn, a community in Fulton, are being proposed to no longer attend Fulton Elementary. As a result, residents have formed the Maple Lawn of Unity Action.
Steven Puchek, who also testified Thursday night, said during the protest that moving a portion of the community away from Fulton Elementary “seems like the most illogical move” of the proposal. These students are being proposed to go to Laurel Woods Elementary.
“Our major message is to keep the community together at our school,” Puchek said.
Maple Lawn of Unity Action understands there are capacity concerns, and he said it has found solutions that do not affect their neighborhoods.
Maple Lawn resident Crandall Watson said splitting up communities would isolate "Maple Lawn children from each other, separating them from friendships and after-school-related extracurricular activities.”
Watson testified on behalf of the Maple Lawn of Unity Action.
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At one point during the protest, all the participants formed a half-circle, chanting “Kids not politics” for several minutes.
A few community members were attempting to take a photograph of an infant in a stroller as they propped up a yellow sign that read “STOP destructive redistricting.”
Similar protests occurred at the previous two hearings, with hundreds showing up at both.
Ire Omitowoju, a senior at River Hill, testified she is “devastated” about the redistricting process, discussing her involvement in her school, including being captain of the poms team and vice president of her class.
“While I am a senior and redistricting doesn’t apply to me, imagining all of this being taken away from me and having to start all over again makes me devastated,” Ire said.
While Ire “understand[s] the need for diversity” and alleviating overcrowded schools, she has concerns with the proposal in terms of its diversity measures.
“River Hill is definitely not one of the most diverse high schools in Howard County, so to me, moving a place like where I live, where one of the majorities is African American, it would be a huge loss for River Hill,” she said. “And it is taking away from the diversity that are we trying to achieve.”