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Parents oppose plan to bus kindergartners


Parents at an overcrowded Ellicott City elementary school oppose a new proposal that would bus their kindergartners to a middle school to relieve crowding.

Parents at St. John's Lane Elementary voted overwhelmingly against sending three kindergarten classes next year to Burleigh Manor Middle School, now under-enrolled by about 200 students.

The school's PTA sent home a questionnaire last week to garner opinion and received more than 100 negative comments, including some from parents upset that the move would break up their school and community, according to Bob Weigl, PTA president.

"We don't want neighborhood children out of their neighborhood school," he said. "We believe that redrawing the boundary lines to keep kids in the neighborhood schools is still possible."

The Howard County school board will vote on the matter -- along with other school boundary changes -- at tonight's 7:30 meeting at the Department of Education on Route 108.

The idea of sending kindergartners to a middle school came up at last week's public work session on redistricting, when school board Chairman Dana Hanna suggested it as a possibility to relieve crowding at the school.

Mr. Hanna said he did not want to redistrict the school next year, as had been requested by parents at recent school boundary hearings.

"I think we ought to take a more systematic approach to the whole region rather than doing spot redistricting next year," he said in an interview.

Until all the homes in the northern region have been built and all the people have moved in, "anyone who tells me that merely redistricting will solve the problem permanently isn't dealing with reality," he said.

School officials are now suggesting adding three portable classrooms -- for a total of five -- to accommodate the extra students expected next school year.

"Taking the options of relocatables and sending our kindergartners to a middle school, we would work with the school system with the relocatables and work with the idea of redistricting next school year," said Valerie Linaburg, co-chair of the school's PTA special committee on overcrowding. "We need some kind of relief. Our school is overcrowded and under-spaced."

Parents were afraid for their children's safety in a middle school environment and wondered where their children would go if they had health problems or injuries during the day. They also said taking kindergartners out would not solve the problem at St. John's Lane.

"Kindergartners do not use the lunchroom," Mr. Weigl said. "They don't interface with the media center. They don't even use the gym."

Parents who already had children attending St. John's Lane also did not like the idea of splitting brothers and sisters between two schools.

But Mr. Hanna said: "As a parent who spent one year with two elementary-aged children in two different schools, although it is difficult, it is workable."

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