As a longtime resident of Howard County and a parent of two young children, I am writing to express my significant concerns about the impact of Superintendent Michael Martirano’s Attendance Area Adjustment Plan (“Howard redistricting plan sacrifices families and students in the name of ‘equity,'" Aug. 27). Consider these facts: First, neighborhoods in a one-mile radius of River Hill High School will have students going to three different high schools. Atholton will be sending 610 students out and receiving 471 students for a total turnover of 1,081 students. The boundaries of Atholton and Oakland Mills high schools get split in multiple sections and separating communities.
Meanwhile, River Hill is an under-capacity school (projected to be at 94% utilization for 2019-2020 school year). The overall Free And Reduced-price Meal or FARM rate of River Hill will increase from less than 5% to 5%. The proposal mentions moving 513 students from Atholton to River Hill. The polygons that they propose to move live farther away to River Hill than communities closer to River Hill High School. Also, the FARM rates of Atholton are less than 10%.
Here’s how my own children and family will be impacted: My children from Polygon 176 would have to drive through River Hill High School bus and car traffic en route to Wilde Lake High School. Second, their commute would triple (as compared to River Hill High School). Such long commute times would affect their sleep (at least two hours of sleep deprivation daily) with family time reduced. The proposal wants to move 478 students out and bring in 741 students in that is a net gain of 229 students. The total turnover of students will be 1,229 students. That is a rate of over 80% of the school total capacity. This is the highest turnover school in the county as proposed. This is extremely disruptive and unnecessary for a school.
The polygons that they propose to move from River Hill to Wilde Lake live about 1.5-3.5 miles away from River Hill. The plan would lead to higher probability of accidents given that high school students would be new drivers on the road driving longer distances with increased traffic jams. Further, longer commutes also reduce parents’ engagement with the schools since they’re further away and this would impact the children’s education. Longer transportation times would lead to higher expenses for the school board with zero return on investment and higher polluting emissions. These are our tax dollars that are being wasted instead of being spent on appropriate educational resources. Next, given the impact on my schedule, I may not be able to pick up my kids in time after their extracurricular activities so those activities may have to be cut down, affecting their education and all-round development. Our family chose to go to these local schools (like River Hill High) when we moved to our current home. We treat our local schools as part of our community which is being torn apart. Our friendships are affected (since local children will now be sent to three different high schools). With the choice taken away from us, all are feeling these impacts.
This redistricting plan is disruptive of our community. Any redistricting proposal should instead be focused on those five high schools operating above target utilization levels. Transferring students from a school with a low FARM ratio to a school with a high FARM ratio only results in better “averages” for the schools. It does not provide any incremental education resources or opportunities directly for these students. Shuffling students across schools with longer commute times do not improve scores — they increase stress and hardship for families.
Let us discuss some alternative scenarios. For example, River Hill High School could receive students from nearby schools such as Wilde Lake, Atholton or Howard, without sending 478 students out to other schools. There should be a way to improve capacity utilization and reduce the 7,396 students being disrupted. Second, postpone redistricting until 2022 by using additional temporary classrooms. Allow time to plan the move in a non-disruptive manner. We owe stability to our kids. The school board could elect not to redistrict at all and instead consider creating a system where under-performing students would be given a choice where to attend school (within a certain radius) and then motivate such students to attend local schools with the capacity and capability. The county could add resources (teachers and specialists) and thereby improve scores by directly targeting under-performing students and adding resources to boost test scores. Title I schools already offer such resources for economically challenged students. We should focus on under-performing students for true education equity.