Looking nervous and sounding angry, more than 50 parents attended a public hearing Thursday on a proposed redistricting plan for the new Fallston Middle School.

Members of the redistricting committee andschool officials tried to calm parents at this second public hearingon the issue by noting Fallston's academic excellence and friendly atmosphere.

But many parents left as worried as they came.

Under the redistricting committee's plan, nearly 900 students would be shifted around, all but 75 to either the new Fallston Middle School, scheduled to open in 1993.

The plan was drafted to alleviate overcrowding in some middle and high schools by moving students to the new Fallston Middle School.

The point of debate for most parents at the hearing atBel Air Middle School was 23 Bel Air Middle students who have been identified as those who would be transferred to Fallston High this fall.

Seventh- and eighth-graders have attended a middle school inside Fallston High for 13 years. The committee's plan would add more middle school classes and pupils, including sixth-graders, within Fallston High School. They'd stay there until the new school opens.

Parents said they are upset that families with two or more children who would have attended Bel Air High together would be split when the younger child is sent to Fallston.

Said a father, "I feel strongly that by splitting families that way, you're taking a hell of a risk. You're talking about division within the family, inside the home. You'regetting awfully deep inside the community."

Others objected that children who have gone to school with friends for eight years would be pulled away from them at what they view as a critical juncture in their social development.

"You're ignoring all the social contacts our kids have made," said one father. "You assume they have no friends except in the neighborhood where they reside, but most of their friends are school friends."

Said another man, "Our daughter is saying, 'I'm not going. I'll quit first.' How do you tell a ninth-grader they can't quit school?"

A procedure exists to appeal the redistricting and receive an exemption; however, there are no guarantees of exemptions. Students who receive the exemption are not allowed to play interscholastic sports for a year.

But parents who were on the 29-member redistricting committee said they'd considered all the problems and still believe they've come up with the best feasible plan.

"Our committee wrestled with the same emotional issues, just like the ones you've had here tonight," said Karen Wolf, a parent of three. "But one thing kept hitting home: We had to start doing something now, or all the schools would be in real trouble."

Many parents agreed that redistricting is necessary. "I've been in the middle school hallways and they're so crowded. I couldn't believe it. They have to do this, they really do," said Joyce Sawyer, a parent attending the meeting.

JoAnn Gayo, another mother on the committee, said she opposed her daughter's going to Fallston when she joined the committee last fall.

"The more my daughter saw me getting used to the idea, the more she got used to it. Now, she says she doesn't mind," Gayo said.

But her remarks didn't allay the fears of some parents, who predicted the 23 students who move to Fallston would be outsiders and experience academic trouble from losing their friends.

A total of 107 BelAir Middle district students would be redistricted to the new schoolover the next three years. Another 75 students would move from Bel Air Middle to Southampton Middle.

Redistricting committee chairman John Gaughan III insisted that children are more malleable than parents expected, and that the Fallston students welcome the new additions.

He emphasized that Fallston High does an excellent job of keeping middle school students separated from high school students.

"This will work or not work depending on the attitude of the parents," Gaughan admonished those at the hearing. "We're working with three excellent schools -- Fallston, Bel Air and Southampton. If parents present it as, 'If you go to (Fallston) you'll get the courses you need andwant,' it will work."

The school board meets March 18 for final action on the redistricting proposal.


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