Dozens of protesters showed up last night to the Fairfax County School Board’s work session on a proposal that would change how local school boundaries are adjusted.
Before the school board got around to discussing the proposal, the meeting room was packed with protesters. Police blocked the door, telling a crowd of about 30 people outside that they could not go into the room, which had reportedly reached its capacity.
The discussion on the proposal was delayed by an hour and a half as staff worked to set up overflow seating with live streaming of the work session in the cafeteria.
Around 7:30 p.m., Jeffrey Platenberg, the assistant superintendent for the Department of Facilities and Transportation Services, kicked off the discussion on the proposal with a presentation.
The draft policy would look at a new set of criteria for prompting and then establishing school boundaries. Once a school boundary change has been identified, some of the new criteria to create the new boundary include:
- “socioeconomic and/or racial composition of students in affected schools”
- “the safety of walking and busing routes”
- “operational efficiency”
“When boundary changes are being considered by the School Board, the changes shall not be restricted by the boundaries of individual schools, administrative areas, zip codes, or magisterial district,” according to the draft. The proposal would also get rid of the expedited boundary process.
Throughout the meeting, protesters in the room waved signs saying “Communities Build Great Schools NOT Boundary Changes” and “Education Excellence NOT Social Engineering.” Several of the protesters said that they thought the process behind how the proposal was created was not transparent enough.
School board members, however, had mixed reactions to the proposal.
“I very much support opening the boundary,” Jane Strauss, the Dranesville District representative, said.
School Board Chair Karen Corbett Sanders said that “significant growth” in the Dulles Corridor and Tysons area that will impact schools — some of which are currently overcrowded in the Tysons area — and questioned if an outside consultant could help the board and community, since “there seems to be a bit of a disconnect that people don’t feel like we have let people in about what we’re doing.”
Meanwhile, others raised concerns about equitable access outlined in the proposal.
At-Large Member Ilryong Moon said that he’s not convinced that the proposal is an improvement after asking for an example of “equitable access to educational opportunities” and Platenberg told him that school boundaries could change to prevent program placement in different schools.
Elizabeth Schultz, the Springfield District representative, heavily criticized the proposal — to the joy of the protesters in attendance — by questioning the legality of deciding to establish a boundary based on a kid’s socioeconomic background or race.
“The notion that we would identify a child and the neighborhood that child lives in and target them for a boundary change based on the color of their skin or the size of their parents’ bank account is a frightening prospect on legality alone considering the number of legal issues the board has,” Schultz said. “I don’t know why we’re going here.”
Schultz also said that she thinks the overcrowding at certain schools should be addressed on a case-by-case basis rather than through a new countywide boundary policy.
“I don’t think it’s fair to the community,” Schultz said.
Dalia Palchik, the Providence District representative, said that she wants the board to talk more about equitable access and continue the discussion on the board level, rather than in subcommittees.
“Boundaries are always going to be a challenge,” she said.
Next, staff will answer questions that the school board members asked. The school board is then slated to approve the draft in September ahead of its incorporation in the Capital Improvement Program draft in December.
Overall, Palchik said, “We’re moving in the right direction.”