In a school system that draws new attendance boundaries almost every year, this is a first.
Seventeen students that were initially slated to change elementary schools this fall will now get to stay put.
The students were initially reassigned to Kenneth Culbert Elementary School in Hamilton, 7 miles from their homes along Thomas Mill Road, but can now remain at Catoctin Elementary in Leesburg.
The Loudoun County School Board voted Tuesday to make the small change to attendance boundaries adopted in March after it came to light that two buses would be picking up just a handful of students on the same road and transporting them to two different schools.
“It really is about a transportation efficiency,” Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) said.
But the decision could cause some ruffled feathers among the 1,100 other students who were reassigned schools.
The three board members who voted against the change raised that concern during a lengthy debate.
A visibly frustrated Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) noted that the change would push Catoctin Elementary’s enrollment to capacity, and that 600 more homes are slated to be built as part of the proposed Crescent Parke development that would sit in that school’s attendance zone.
“What happens when Catoctin doesn’t have room for those students? We pay for transportation for them to go to another school. I don’t see the efficiency,” he said.
DeKenipp has a personal aversion to how school leaders assign students. He took the School Board to court in 2012 after his daughter was reassigned from her neighborhood school, John W. Tolbert Elementary, to Frederick Douglass Elementary 3 miles away. He lost the case, but the judge urged the School Board to make the process leading to boundary decisions more transparent.
“There are inefficiencies throughout central Loudoun,” he said Tuesday. “And frankly we’re opening the door for every parent who’s unhappy with their school assignment to come in and say, well, this bus passes my house so I should go to this school,” he said.
Tom Marshall (Leesburg) and Debbie Rose (Algonkian) also raised concerns about setting precedent. Joy Maloney (Broad Run) said that’s a concern of hers, but added that the School Board is the one who can decide that going forward, adding, “It’s not like we’re the Supreme Court.”
“Precedent is not going to stop me from doing the right thing here,” said Beth Huck (At Large), who worked with the families along Thomas Mill Road and the Transportation Department to find a solution. “I know it hasn’t been done before, but it’s a way to make it right.”
Leading up to the board’s adoption of the new boundaries in March, parents who live on and near Thomas Mill Road pointed out that that map would mean buses crisscrossing paths. But Hornberger said, unfortunately, their concerns got lost in the larger discussion, and the school system does not have the resources to have the Transportation Department study every attendance map proposed. At times, the School Board has as many as a dozen proposed boundary plans on the table.
“We try the best we can during the attendance process,” he said, “but the county is growing and some small tweaks may need to be made after the fact.”