Visibly upset parents packed the school board room tonight to voice their concerns over pending attendance boundary changes that could shuffle thousands students in southern Loudoun County.
Most of the 100-plus people who attended the meeting on the upcoming secondary school boundary changes stood during the entire hour-long public hearing to show their support for their neighbors.
Attendance zone changes at Dulles North and Dulles South secondary schools are inevitable ahead of the opening of a new middle school along Braddock Road, known as MS-7 in fall of 2018, and to provide much needed relief to overcrowded schools in the Dulles area. As the Loudoun County School Board redraws attendance lines, it is also taking into account a new high school (HS-11) that will open in Brambleton in 2019 and a new high school (HS-9) scheduled to open just south of Rt. 50 in 2021.
The overwhelming message from the 30 speakers who addressed the board tonight was to keep students who live south of Rt. 50 at schools south of Rt. 50.
Last week, the school system’s Planning Department unveiled three proposed attendance maps and one, Option 3, would reassign students in planning zones DS 12.2 and 12.3—which are south of Braddock Road and east of Gum Springs Road—outside of their normal school cluster to Stone Hill Middle School, until HS-11 opens in fall of 2021. The plan would also move middle schoolers in planning zone DS 16 from Mercer to Lunsford.
In all, those shifts would move about 500 students out of Mercer Middle School.
Executive Director of Planning Sam Adamo has recommended the board go with Option 3 because it would keep enrollment at all of the area’s middle schools below 1,650. “Our concern was the instructional program, and how to provide continuing education in a reasonable environment,” he said at the Oct. 24 meeting.
But parents and students from those neighborhoods, including Virginia Manor, Lenah Run and Kirkpatrick Farms, said it would mean hour-long bus rides and disconnected communities.
“I’m concerned my daughter and her peers are being penalized for adults’ inability to plan for the future,” Virginia Manor resident Tonya Williams told the board. “You say you didn’t know this growth was coming. Loudoun County has been one of the fastest growing counties in Virginia since the 1990s.”
She called Option 3 dangerous and unworkable.
Ashley Eagan, also a Virginia Manor resident and a student at Mercer Middle School, said she is a nationally ranked champion Irish dancer who travels to Baltimore twice a week for classes. She’s a straight-A student and a frequent recipient of student of the month awards. “I can do all this because my school is less than one mile away,” she said, adding that it will be impossible to keep up with everything if she is reassigned to Stone Hill Middle School seven miles away.
A comment made by School Board Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) at the beginning of the meeting about the concerns of busing Dulles South students to schools north of Rt. 50 prompted loud applause and cheers from the audience.
That was one of several moments Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) had to quiet the crowd. He encouraged them to show their support for speakers by either quietly waving their hands or standing.
One speaker, Avram Fechter, asked board members to take a straw vote to indicate to community members their opposition to any plan that would send students living south of Rt. 50 to schools north.
“It is such a concern, as you see tonight. It would put all of us at rest, if you could put that on the record,” he said. “We could all sleep easy. We could all leave you alone.”
The three plans proposed by the Planning Department will likely be just a starting point. School Board members often draft their own proposals to be voted on.
The board will hold several work sessions and public hearings ahead of adopting a final boundary plan Dec. 13. The next public hearing is 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14. People can sign up to speak at lcps.org or by calling 571-252-1050. The meetings are held at LCPS School Administration Building, 21000 Education Court in Ashburn.