On Tuesday, June 13, the Baltimore County Public School (BCPS) board voted on a plan to redistrict eight elementary schools in an effort to better integrate and relieve overcrowding on the east side of the county.
The schools in question—Glenmar, Hawthorne, Martin Boulevard, Middlesex, Orems, Shady Spring, Victory Villa, and Vincent Farm elementary schools—vary in minority population as well as student enrollment with some falling over and under capacity.
“You don’t really think about segregation in schools in 2017,” said Marisol Johnson, vice chair of the Board of Education for BCPS. “But need to make an effort to integrate them and make them more diverse.”
Based on 2016 student enrollment, four of the eight schools exceeded 115-percent capacity with Shady Spring severely overcrowded at 130-percent capacity.
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After four months of planning, seven meetings, and 14 possible scenarios, the community study board for Victory Villa ultimately presented “plan D1” to the board of education for consideration. In this plan, a handful of students from Orems, a school with a low minority population, would be sent to Middlesex, and 25 students from Shady Spring would go to Orems. But after hearing the details of the proposed plan, BCPS board of education member Stephen Virch proposed an amendment to consider before voting.
“This is a very serious matter,” he said. “This spans two districts, and we really have to consider all parts.”
Virch explained that principal Kenneth Dunaway of Shady Spring—a school with high minority population—expressed some concern about the Latino students in his school possibly being split up and transferred to different schools if the district boundary lines are redrawn through the community.
“The principal suggests that whatever the committee does, keep the planning blocks with the Latino students together,” Virch relayed.
School principals couldn’t be reached for comment because they are not speaking with the media, according to BCPS.
The school system’s chief accountability officer Dr. Russell Brown suggests that an objective solution is possible if residents in the districts are willing to compromise. A number of parents of Orems believed that the students from other schools would negatively influence their children, decrease property values, and disrupt the close-knit community for the sake of diversity. Parents at surrounding schools believe the opposition stems from possible minority influx.
Under the new redistricting boundaries, Orems minority population would increase significantly from 28 percent to 40 percent.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to balance enrollment in the region,” Brown said. “It requires people to change, it requires that people go to different schools.”
In the end, the board voted to keep all current students at Orems Elementary but will move 94 students from Shady Spring to Orems, effective at the start of the 2018-2019 school year. The newly reconstructed and enlarged Victory Villa Elementary set to open in 2018 and will add 409 seats.
According to Johnson, the Perry Hall area is next up for a similar redistricting plan. Perry Hall Middle School will undergo reconstruction next year and the board will be challenged with creating new boundary lines between the newly constructed middle school and Golden Ring Middle.
“I’m interested to see how this one plays out,” Johnson said. “I’m happy with making our schools more diverse—we need to spread the children around.”