Should MCPS be conducting the boundary analysis?

Nour Faragallah

More stories from Nour Faragallah

More stories from Alex Wolfson

The MCPS Boundary Analysis has been met with fierce debate throughout the county.

courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The MCPS Boundary Analysis has been met with fierce debate throughout the county.

MCPS must solve overcrowding

By Nour Faragallah

Last December, MCPS announced the start of a boundary analysis study that was met with many questions from parents and students alike. As we enter into Phase 2 of that study, let’s remind ourselves of a couple of things:

The MCPS boundary analysis study is exactly what it sounds like- a study. In the last 20 years, the school district has grown by over 30,000 students. As a result, many schools are overpopulated, including WJ. Many of us have experienced the problems of overpopulation firsthand, from finding zero parking spots in front of the school to having 30+ students in one classroom — so we must admit that there is a problem. And we cannot solve a problem without first understanding it.

And we cannot solve a problem without first understanding it.

— Nour Faragallah

MCPS doesn’t have the data needed to start solving the problem of overpopulation; that is why there is a study ongoing to learn about it.

Currently, 13 out of MCPS’s 27 high schools are over-utilized, meaning over 101% utilization rate. Utilization rate is the measured percentage of capacity of school facilities. Fourteen high schools are between 80% and 100% utilization rate. With the addition of two new high schools by 2025 and in case of redistricting, MCPS intends for every high school to be between the ideal 80% and 100% utilization rate.

In the case of redistricting, MCPS has repeatedly emphasized in its policy that as many students as possible should be within “walking distance” of their school. Walking distance means 1 or 2 miles away from the school. So, there should be no concerns about busing.

Besides overpopulation, another reason MCPS is starting the boundary analysis study is to increase racial and socioeconomic diversity. The study is also researching students who are utilize the FARMs (Free And Reduced Meals) Program. In the case of redistricting, FARMs students would be more spread out. Currently, the lower the rate of students on FARMs is an indicator that that school is better on state and local assessments. There shouldn’t be a correlation between these to numbers.

Now on to race. It is a fact that like many places in America, Montgomery County is de facto segregated. De facto segregation means that students are not legally segregated by race, but schools are still segregated due to other reasons out of the government’s control. Education researcher Rick Kahlenberg notes, “Segregated schools actually cost the public more to fix all of the other problems it creates,” which is why it is critical that MCPS does the study now.

I have attended some of the meetings on the boundary study. I have also read some articles about the issue in local newspapers. It is really sad the way that some parents and students talk about the issue, because to say that some of these parents’ comments were racist would be an understatement. Some parents called minority students “a burden”. Or said they should not be paying for “working hard and doing well and choosing to live in a certain community”. A student explicitly said at the WJ Board of Education Boundary Analysis Meeting in January, that “maybe being separate but equal” isn’t an inherently bad thing. I wonder where I’ve heard that before.

Parents have legitimate concerns

By Alex Wolfson

The ongoing MCPS Boundary Analysis is reviewing school boundary lines in Montgomery County. And while MCPS has good intentions for doing so, such as decreasing overcrowding and increasing diversity in schools, they fail to understand the drawbacks of the boundary analysis.

The Boundary Analysis directly affects homeowners in Montgomery County. The central mantra of real estate is “location, location, location.” And for families, the most important part of “location, location, location” is often schools. Parents want their kids to be set up for success and to attend strong schools. School districts are a significant factor in a home’s value and switching up the district lines will dramatically affect the value of homes in Montgomery County. Furthermore, it will throw a wrench into the lives of homeowners who have invested many resources to allow their kids to go to a strong school. MCPS needs to understand the concerns of families.

Parents should not be ostracized for speaking out for the interests of their children. To dismiss their concerns as ‘selfish’ or even ‘racist’ distracts from legitimate concerns parents may have about the education of their children.

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Furthermore, why are we even here? It was neither Superintendent Jack Smith nor the MCPS bureaucracy itself that raised the issue. The idea of a boundary analysis was introduced by the 41st Student Member of the Board (SMOB). The MCPS Board passed the SMOB’s proposal for the Boundary Analysis, and we are now in Phase 2. But where is the SMOB? She’s in college. The problem is that a SMOB, elected by some children who are as young as 11 years old, initiated a project that could dramatically affect the lives of homeowners in Montgomery County. She wasn’t elected by parents. She was elected by middle and high school students, and the middle school students probably voted for her simply because she promised them phones during lunch. She campaigned on solving overcrowding by building up infrastructure, not on redrawing boundary lines. Her term was just one year, but she initiated something that could change the scope of the county for the foreseeable future.

Lastly, should the Boundary Analysis really be the focus of MCPS right now? In the midst of a pandemic, MCPS should be more concerned with getting students back into schools safely, not playing around with boundary lines.