School Board Declines to Reopen Attendance Boundary Process for Beacon Hill Area

After a lengthy debate among Loudoun County School Board members tonight, Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) declared there was not a consensus to initiate the process to redraw attendance boundaries for secondary students in the Beacon Hill area.

Board members Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) spoke in favor of launching an abbreviated boundary process for families in the CL 05 planning zone—which includes a portion of the Beacon Hill, Catoctin Ridge and Leeland Heights neighborhoods as well as Leeland Orchards. But, in a straw vote, Beth Huck (At Large), Debbie Rose (Algonkian), Tom Marshall (Leesburg), Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) and Morse voted against it. Joy Maloney (Broad Run) was absent for the discussion. Chris Croll (Catoctin), who initially requested that the board discuss whether to look into reassigning the secondary students in those neighborhoods, ultimately voted to not open up the process.

In 2016, families in those neighborhoods were reassigned from Leesburg’s Frances Hazel Reid to Kenneth Culbert Elementary School, 9 miles west in Hamilton. They maintained their middle and high school assignments, at Smarts Mill and Tuscarora in Leesburg. That has meant that those students—currently about 24 middle school students and 64 high school students—attend Leesburg secondary schools while most of their elementary classmates go off to schools in western Loudoun.

Culbert is the only elementary school in the county that has its students go on to attend four different middle schools and high schools.

“I felt it was worth discussion since the zoning in that area is unusual,” Croll said. “Personally, I have mixed feelings about supporting this change due to the lack of unity in the neighborhood.”

At Croll’s request, the board discussed whether to look at reassigning secondary students in those neighborhoods to Harmony Middle School in Hamilton and Woodgrove High School near Purcellville. Croll said a survey sent to households just in Beacon Hill—not all of the households in the effected planning zone—indicated 60 percent of families in that neighborhood preferred to attend schools in western Loudoun.

But all but one of the 15 parents who approached the board Tuesday said they prefer to attend schools in Leesburg. Among the speakers was Beacon Hill resident Paul Gibson, who wants his seventh-grade daughter to continue attending Smarts Mill Middle School and to attend Tuscarora for high school.

He said he knows firsthand how busy high school students get; his son and older daughter attend Tuscarora and participate in sports, debate team, student government, and Key Club. His middle school daughter is in drama, which also calls for after-school and late-night rehearsals. Transporting his children to schools 9 miles west of their home would mean fighting commuter traffic.

“It’s a lot to keep up with when our kids are in school in Leesburg. Getting to Woodgrove—which is on the far side of Purcellville—would be a nightmare,” Gibson said. “So consequently, you’ll find that students and parents will be less involved.”

Plus, his children’s friends, doctors, and dentists are in Leesburg. If the board changes anything, it should change the elementary assignment back to Leesburg. “You might as well be moving them cross country. They’re not from that town. They didn’t grow up in Purcellville.”

Todd Stafford, who has children at Smarts Mill and Culbert, said if the School Board were to change the boundaries for the Beacon Hill area neighborhoods, it would be setting a bad precedent. “This request was made by a subset of a subset of CL 05’s constituents,” he said. “Is LCPS prepared to provide such due process to all residents who are unhappy with the current school assignments?”

Most board members agreed.

“Are we going to go around the county and find every split feed and mess with boundaries?” Morse said.

Marshall added, “There is no problem. Nothing has to be fixed. Why go through this?”

Morse also noted that any students in those neighborhoods who prefer to attend western Loudoun schools can request to do so through the school division’s special permission policy, which allows students to transfer to any school that has space. “For those who do want to go to western Loudoun schools, great, there’s space.”

Editor’s Note: The initial version of this article incorrectly reported School Board member Chris Croll (Catoctin)’s straw vote. She voted against initiating the boundary process. Loudoun Now regrets the error.

dnadler@loudounnow.com
@Danielle_Nadler

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