ROCKVILLE — Parents of Montgomery County Public Schools elementary school students told school board members they are concerned about redistricting plans in the Richard Montgomery High School cluster that might require more students to take the bus or redistribute the number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches.
They raised the concerns during a school board hearing on the plan, which would cover College Gardens, Ritchie Park, Beall, and Twinbrook Elementary Schools.
Twinbrook ES parent Melissa Downs said she does not believe reducing FARM rates is a justified reason for changes.
"Our FARM rate does not define us," she said. "Our strong community is what defines us."
Downs added that the school community raised thousands of dollars during a recent fundraiser to cover the cost of field trips for students.
Under both Alternative C, part of Twinbrook ES student enrollment would be reassigned to Richard Montgomery Elementary School No. 5 and another portion would be bused -- past Twinbrook and RMES No. 5 -- to Richie Park Elementary. In alternative D, some Twinbrook students would move to RMES No. 5, and a portion of students from Bealle Elementary would be bused to RMES No. 5. But those options would ease the burden on Twinbrook - which is currently at capacity - as well as reduce its' FARM rate, which would go down from 70 percent to 44.3 percent and 52.8 percent for alternatives C and D, respectively.
"Travel times to and from school would increase," Downs noted.
"Alternative C (and, less so) Alternative D, does a disservice to all five schools in this district," she said. "None of the schools will have a continuous boundary (and) that is very important to all of us."
Nick Coutsos noted that Beall Elementary School and Ritchie Park Elementary School bear the majority of consequences in all proposed options other than Alternative A, as both would have parts of their neighborhoods assigned to the proposed fifth elementary school that would feed into Richard Montgomery HS.
"Each option other than alternative A results in forced busing," Coutsos said.
Matthew Swibel also said he was concerned about the proposed plans involving reassignment of households for several elementary schools. He recommended the Board of Education not base redistricting plans on moving students who receive free and reduced-price meals because it is too difficult to do so equitably, since 22 of 130 elementary schools will end up with higher percentages of students receiving free and reduced-price meals than others in the five proposed options under discussion, and because the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price meals in each school is not easily predictable.
"FARM data is the element most likely to change in future years as a result of future development," Swibel said.
Ritchie Park ES PTA board member Shrimant Mishra said he was concerned about the BOE's approach because based on his analysis of alternatives B through E, the benefits of letting students go to school near their home was being given short shrift compared with "diversity."
"[T]he Board of Education clearly states that no criterion should be given priority over the other – even though it's clear that in the new proposal, diversity is being prioritized to geographic proximity and community involvement," Mishra said. "Diversity of communities can change, but commute times are only going to get worse."
Mishra believes the current district lines provide for sufficient diversity and said "geographic proximity and community involvement" should receive more consideration from the Board.
He also said the Board allowed much less time for community feedback for four of the five options, given that most came out recently, which the superintendent blamed on a miscalculation in some of the school data a couple of weeks ago. While Alternative A had about six months for feedback, Alternatives B through E would have only a few weeks before the School Board has to adopt a plan.
Another MCPS parent, Norean Qadir, said increasing the number of students who must ride a bus to school will harm student development and community engagement.
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