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Parents want board to change redistricting plan


Seventh-grader Eric Silverglate has attended two elementary schools and one middle school during his six years in Howard County's public schools. His brother Matthew, a fifth-grader, already is on his third elementary school.

And both will be entering new schools again next year under a redistricting plan that comes up for a public hearing tonight before the Howard County school board.

"It seems like we are the convenient community to redistrict over and over," said Rhonda Friedman Silverglate, who has been living in the same Ellicott City house since 1988. "How can you have parental involvement in a school when the school keeps changing?"

Eric, Matthew and their mother are among the more than 40 parents and students scheduled to testify at tonight's hearing, raising complaints about everything from the assignment of special education students to the condition of older buildings.

Most, if not all, will be trying to persuade Associate Superintendent Maurice Kalin and the five-member school board to change the redistricting plan to spare their particular neighborhood or their children from being sent to a different elementary or middle school.

"I'm still open to making changes. If parents raise something I haven't thought of, I will go back and look into it," Dr. Kalin said. "Nothing is set in stone until the board approves the redistricting proposal or directs us as to what they want us to do."

The changes in boundary lines would affect relatively few elementary school students but would result in the transfer of more than 550 middle school students. Redistricting at the high school level, however, would not occur until next year. The school system redistricts its schools almost every year to adapt to increasing enrollment and the opening of new schools. The population is expected to rise by about 11,000 by 2004, bringing enrollment to 47,000 students.

The board is scheduled to hold a work session on redistricting March 14 and vote on the proposal for elementary and middle school students March 23.

For families such as the Silverglates living in and around the Timber Run development in Ellicott City, the main objection is the number of times their children have been redistricted.

Take the case of 12-year-old David Reitmeyer, a seventh-grader at Mayfield Woods Middle School. After beginning at Worthington Elementary School, he was transferred to Waterloo Elementary School in third grade. Under the redistricting proposal, he, like Eric Silverglate, would be sent to the 55-year-old Ellicott Mills Middle School for eighth grade.

"I have no problem with Ellicott Mills, even thought it's an old building, because anywhere he goes he will get a decent education," said Katie Reitmeyer, David's mother. "It's just really difficult to establish a rapport with the staff and teachers when your children keep moving around."

The school system's guidelines say that elementary or middle school students should not be moved more than once every three years. Although Dr. Kalin did not discuss specific students, he said he does not believe that the redistricting plans break those guidelines.

But some parents and their children object to Dr. Kalin's decision to move 44 seventh-graders for their final year of middle school.

"I'm going to have to leave all my friends behind and sit on my bus even longer," Eric Silverglate said. "Only about five or six of my friends will be transferred with me, and the rest of the people I don't know. Why change us for just one year?"

Dr. Kalin said that the seventh-graders need to be moved so that Ellicott Mills will have enough students at all three grade levels and have a total enrollment of more than 450 students. That number is the minimum the school system considers acceptable to ensure that a middle school has adequate staffing and programs.

The dispute over the transfer of seventh-graders for their final year of middle school is just one of several complaints that parents are expected to raise during tonight's hearing.

For example, parents at Stevens Forest Elementary School will urge the school board not to transfer severely emotionally disturbed children to their school.

They object to the school system's plan to split a population of 20 such children between Stevens Forest and Waterloo elementary schools. For the past 20 years, Waterloo has been the location of the county's central program for students with severe emotional problems. Parents at Waterloo have complained about disruptive behavior by those students.

Some parents also are expected to complain about the condition of Ellicott Mills, where students from Mayfield Woods and possibly Dunloggin Middle School would be transferred under the redistricting proposal. They argue that the school, which is scheduled to be replaced in 1999, is substandard and should be closed.

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