UPPER MARLBORO — The Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Board of Education heard comments from the public and had a detailed discussion about boundary changes and the expansion of Spanish and Chinese immersion programs during their meeting on Oct. 24.
The first of the public comments for the evening was former Board of Education Member Patricia Eubanks.
Eubanks had served District 4 on the board of education since 2010 but abruptly resigned from her position on Sept. 30. Deputy Chief of Staff to the county executive John Erzen later confirmed that Eubanks had been asked to resign because she was serving while not living in her district, a requirement listed in the PGCPS Board of Education Handbook.
“Who likes being accused, and especially when what was done wasn’t malicious intent, only trying to complete the good work that you started…I make no justification for my actions, but I do apologize,” Eubanks said to the board.
She went on to tell her side of the story, explaining that she had fallen on hard times caring for her mother, who had dementia, and putting two children through college on her own. She lost her job with the government and experienced ageism when trying to return to work, eventually finding herself homeless but continued to serve on the board.
Eubanks then addressed Board of Education Vice Chair Edward Burroughs directly saying she feels “sad for the direction you are headed” and “your underhanded actions and tactics to a fellow board member were anything but kind.”
She ended her speech when she was cut off by Board of Education Chair Alvin Thornton, who told her she could not direct her comments at specific board members.
Most of the other comments had to do with proposed boundary changes, especially those in Bowie that was initially supposed to correct overcrowding at Whitehall Elementary School.
PGCPS held three community forums on the topic. After significant pushback from the community and a letter from Board Member Raaheela Ahmed to CEO Monica Goldson requesting that different action be taken, the proposal was removed from the table on Oct. 22.
Backed by a group of parents, Danielle Brawner-Palmer addressed the board and expressed support for taking a different approach to fixing the overcrowding at Whitehall Elementary School.
Brawner-Palmer moved to Bowie from Hyattsville to have her second-grade son attend Whitehall after leaving four other schools due to the low quality of education.
“I know that my story of how and why I moved to Bowie is not one of isolation but a very common one in the Whitehall community,” she said. “I understand that Whitehall is overcrowded while other schools are underused, but recently Whitehall is like a bandaid on the broken bones of the education system in PG County. I think we should be asking how we can bring other schools in PG County up to the same high performing bar as Whitehall?”
Following public comments, the board of education spent the majority of the meeting discussing proposed boundary changes.
One reason for the boundary changes has to do with the school system’s goal to move sixth grade to middle school throughout the county. Starting fall 2020, sixth-graders from Marlton Elementary will move to Gwynn Park Middle School, and sixth-graders at Patuxent Elementary will go to James Madison.
Additionally, with the construction of new schools, such as Cherokee Lane Elementary, which will open in fall 2021 and several middle schools set to begin from 2021 to 2025, more boundaries will have to be adjusted. PGCPS will start getting community input in spring 2020.
Another reason for boundary changes is the expansion of immersion programs into middle school. Based on parent surveys taken by PGCPS, most parents requested that immersion continues into middle school at a centralized location. Kettering Middle School was chosen as the new location for Spanish Immersion.
To successfully implement an immersion program in Kettering Middle School, boundaries would have to be changed to move some neighborhood students to different schools. In the long run, the goal is to have Kettering made up of 40% immersion students and 60% neighborhood students. If approved, sixth graders will be assigned to Kettering in fall 2020.
“Kettering Middle School is located in the central part of the county,” said Chief of Staff Christian Rhodes. “There were a bunch of questions that came up at the community forums about why Kettering, why not a southern school and northern school. The reality is that it is difficult to place multiple programs across the district, particularly given the strain of our transportation department.”
Meanwhile, the middle school Chinese Immersion program will be put in Greenbelt Middle School. As part of the phasing in, sixth graders will remain at Paint Branch Elementary School until the new William Wirt Middle School is built. They will then move into Greenbelt Middle School. Seventh-grade immersion continuity will begin at Greenbelt Middle in fall 2021.
“Boundaries are a difficult decision, and we recognize that from the hearings and engagement in community forums,” Rhodes said. “Our partners in Howard County and Montgomery County are currently going through the same conversation, but it is necessary to get it right.”
One of the issues brought up by board members during the meeting had to do with transportation. With the current shortage of bus drivers and buses running late picking up students, there was a concern with how the issue would be affected by boundary changes.
According to Goldson, the issue of transportation has not been looked into yet, concerning the boundary changes, but a comprehensive study will take place in the future.
Board member Belinda Queen echoed the sentiments of Brawner-Palmer about solving the issue of equity within the school system so that when boundary changes need to happen, students can get a quality education no matter where they go.
“I look forward to the day that I believe will come where all of our schools will be considered top-rated, and every resident and citizen and student in Prince George’s County will be Prince George’s County proud,” Queen said.