More than 30 parents—along with a fifth grader—spoke at the final redistricting hearing Monday night, appealing to the board to alter districts, reverse decisions and adopt a liberal boundary exception policy.
The hearing was the last before the board is scheduled to vote on the plan in a business meeting Feb. 28, when public comment will also be accepted. And though board members stressed that they will continue to take proposals and feedback until that date, some parents remained unconvinced.
"[The Superintendent's Technical Advisory Committee] presented a proposal titled 'final revision' to the board," Michael Meehan said. "My question to you is, what is your definition of final? … Do people who are here tonight with new ideas, presenting alternate proposals for the first time, truly have a choice or an option?"
Board President Mark Wolkow responded to those concerns at the end of the redistricting hearing.
"It does not matter to us if tonight's the first time we've heard ... or if we've heard it for the last several months," he said. "We're going to look at whatever comes in."
One parent, Cyrus Etemad-Moghadam, brought his son, Reza, a fifth grade student at Youth's Benefit Elementary School, to speak before the board.
Reza described his positive experience with portable classrooms to show that they could be a solution to capacity problems at Youth's Benefit.
"In second grade, my teacher was Ms. Miller, she was very nice and we were in one of the portable classrooms," he said. "I liked the class because it was quiet and always comfortable."
The boy is glad to have made it through elementary school at one location.
"I am lucky because I am able to finish fifth grade in YBES," Reza continued. "I hope you let my neighbors go to YBES next year too."
Chief of Administration Joseph Licata has stressed at previous hearings that portable classrooms were always meant to be portable and are not considered part of the capacity solution.
There were a few new proposals at the redistricting hearing, one of which came from a small community in the Churchville Elementary School district. According to April Ingram-Hauhn, until , her community remained at Churchville, but is now slated to go to Church Creek Elementary School.
"The property that is directly across the street from my house is still in the Churchville school district," she said. "These are seven kids that you are pulling, sending to an Aberdeen-filtered elementary school.
"We were not made aware of this," Ingram-Hauhn added. "This was the last minute change for these kids so I'm asking if you can make some kind of amendment to keep these seven kids in Churchville school district."
One group was at the meeting to discourage a proposal submitted by another community. Nancy Lever's children are in the Emmorton Elementary School district and are proposed to go to Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School. This move, however, is OK with her and a few other parents who were present.
It is an alternate proposal suggesting that group be moved from Homestead-Wakefield that is upsetting Lever.
"To hear right before this hearing that our communities are being named by another community to be moved away from Homestead-Wakefield is an outrage," she said. "Any change at this late date takes the voice away from our two communities and leaves over 300 families without their opportunity to respond."
Though the board previously accepted the in the Fountain Green Elementary School district, based on declining enrollment, another community in that area, Fountain Green Heights, is still slated to move to Prospect Mill Elementary School.
Two parents from that community, Rebecca Baird and Angela Lambert, expressed emotional ties to Fountain Green.
Baird's daughter is a special needs student at Fountain Green with anxiety issues and, according to Baird, a move like this could be more than her daughter can handle.
"I finally got her anxiety issues under control and now I have a feeling I'm going to have to watch it all over again," she said. "I just can't bear to go home and tell her that she's got to start all over again."
And Lambert wants her daughter, who stood with her at the meeting, to be able to stay at Fountain Green as well.
"Last year I battled breast cancer for the second time," Lambert said. "My daughter received such amazing support from the guidance counselor, her teacher and other staff members at Fountain Green, along with parents from our neighboring communities.
"... Having been to numerous hearings before this evening, to me it still isn't clear as to why the school board is moving 25 students to Prospect Mill when Fountain Green Elementary is well within the 85 to 95 percent STAC parameter, including our children.”
The last parents to speak were Edward and Karen Ochab, who requested a liberal boundary exception policy, especially for their daughter, a special needs student at Dublin Elementary School.
Edward Ochab spoke at the , and Monday night his wife (pictured) added her voice as well.
"My child is currently on a boundary exception and I, as her voice and advocate, I am here to fight for her," she said. "She has come a long way from where she started out and I give her current school, all the teachers, therapists and inclusion helpers, a lot of credit for helping her to succeed academically as well as socially."
Karen then made a final plea.
"I would hate,” she said, “for the Harford County system to fail her now."