UPPER MARLBORO – For the second time in as many votes, boundary changes for Accokeek Academy have been postponed.
But District 9 Boardmember Sonya Williams, who made the motion to table the Accokeek boundary changes, said she hopes a compromise can be reached no later than the end of the school year.
“We’re just looking at all the options,” she said. “My goal is to have us approve a change to reduce the population of Accokeek Academy by the end of the school year.“
The decision to table the Accokeek Academy boundary changes came after months of testimony from families and community members from Accokeek and the Fort Washington Forest Elementary School areas. The board took up those boundary changes as well as changes for Buck Lodge Middle School, the two Mount Rainier elementary schools, the new Fairmont Heights High School and for the further phasing-in of moving sixth grade students to middle school during its Feb. 23 meeting.
While changes for the other schools passed unanimously, the recommendations handed down by schools’ Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Kevin Maxwell concerning Accokeek Academy were unanimously pulled and tabled.
Williams said the board agreed to do so to avoid making a decision that the community did not agree with.
“Whatever we do, we’re going to have to move some kids out and there is a challenge about who should be moved out,” she said. “I didn’t think it was appropriate for us to make a decision that the community did not support. Whatever we do, we make sure that they support this.”
Over the past year, families from the area surrounding Accokeek Academy have engaged in conversation with Williams and Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) boundary office employees about the options moving forward for the crowded school.
Tommi Makila, a southern-area activist and parent of an academy alum, has continually thanked Williams for her open dialogue around the issue but compared Maxwell’s proposal to a slap in the face.
He said, after spending so much time trying to reach a compromise, Maxwell ended up proposing a boundary change that was not that different from one proposed the previous year. That change, too, had been tabled, along with all of the other proposed boundary changes, in February of 2016.
The decision to table the Accokeek boundaries again was not ideal, Makila said, but he believes it was a better option than passing a change the community did not support.
“If the decision was to make a bad decision or a no decision and they made no decision, I think that was the right thing to do,” he said. “I think the CEO proposed a bad option.”
Looking forward, Williams said she is hopeful the community can find compromise in moving the Talented and Gifted center out of Accokeek Academy to address overcrowding issues.
“That option gives parents in the community options,” she said.
But Makila said he is hesitant to “effectively dismantle” a program that is working so well currently.
“The reality is we don’t have many successful flagship programs,” Makila said, explaining that people move to the area specifically for Accokeek Academy. “So to dismantle that program – why on earth would we dismantle it?”
Makila questioned if the board would ever similarly consider moving the science and technology program from Eleanor Roosevelt High School to address overcrowding issues at that school.
On another front entirely, members of the Cheverly community also attended several meetings about boundary changes to advocate for the inclusion of all its town residents in the same school boundaries as the majority of the town.
Maurielle Stewart from the Cheverly Town Council said the way the current boundaries are drawn, a few select families are separated from the rest of the town. She said this perpetuates a divide that has lasted since the eras of segregation and stands in the face of the “hard work” the township has put in to improve inclusion.
“Psychologically, this inadvertently recreates a divide born from a history of segregation and instills a sense of ‘otherness,’” Stewart said.
However, despite testimony, no action was taken on the Cheverly boundaries. Maxwell said Cheverly was not included in this year’s boundary scope but said he was “not unwilling” to consider the township’s request next year.
At the same time, though, Maxwell said he is hesitant to grant the change due to the precedent it would set. While Cheverly residents have claimed the change only pertains to “one or two families,” Maxwell said it would really effect 20 or more students, which has a much larger impact than one or two students.
The Greenbelt City Council has also advocated at board meetings to have the boundaries changed in their municipality to allow the families who live in the Franklin Park at Greenbelt Station apartments to attend Greenbelt schools. Essentially, that change would ensure that all Greenbelt children attend Greenbelt schools.
Maxwell has said in the past that he could not promise that every city or town’s children attend a city or town school. Still, Boardmember Edward Burroughs, III questioned why an exception could not be made for Cheverly families.
“I don’t believe that just because you live in a municipality, you deserve to go to schools in that municipality,” Burroughs said. “In this case, I believe it only impacts 20 students, maybe, and if we’re doing our best to keep our students in the public school system and build strong relationships with communities…”
In response, Maxwell said those families in Cheverly could always apply for a transfer request to attend the same school as others in the township. Boardmember Lupi Grady also advised caution, pointing out that allowing a change in Cheverly could lead to a “slippery slope.”
“Where do we go from there? It’s a very slippery slope,” Grady said.
In the end, board Vice-Chair Carolyn Boston asked the school administration to put the Cheverly boundaries on the list for consideration next year. It was a request the PGCPS chief operating officer agreed to.