SUSPEND the Howard County, MD school redistricting process

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Any school redistricting process should promote student and community members’ welfare to the greatest extent possible. However, the Howard County process, as it has unfolded (and continues to unfold), has introduced insurmountable doubt in the process’ integrity, transparency, consistency, impartiality, and intent to consider the interests of the community at large.  We the undersigned, petition HCPSS, its Superintendent, and its Board of Education to abandon any efforts to redistrict Howard County, MD in 2018 and to postpone any boundary adjustments until it is possible to facilitate a consistent (and protocol-abiding) process, conduct more comprehensive studies, and make adequate future preparations.

It is very questionable whether there is a need to enact the current large-scale, countywide boundary adjustment for 2018. Boundary adjustments of the scale being proposed will greatly impact the lives of students, parents and staff, at all academic levels. Involuntary disruptions/transitions produce negative educational and inter-personal outcomes, in addition to mental and emotional distress that lead to subpar performance (in and out of the classroom). Unwelcome changes disrupt school communities (often against the very ideals on which the communities themselves were founded) and threaten the success of extracurricular programs. One result would be a certain loss of consistency in community ideals and a degrading sense of community, which often leads to far greater and far reaching degradation of the attractiveness of affected areas for existing and potential community members.

Many AAC committee actions in the redistricting process have been based on inconsistencies that are leading to misguided plans, and serious issues have surfaced that provide the firm basis to conclusively postpone the redistricting process altogether. The circumstances that support said basis include, among others:

1)    Disproportionate reliance on the FARMS index. The FARMS (Free and Reduced-Price Meals) index, which is used by the AAC and Board of Education as a measure of economic disadvantage, while only one of 11 criteria determined to be evenly-weighed to define the outcome of the ongoing redistricting process, has clearly become a disproportionately heavy driver in the process. This inappropriate approach undermines the protocol that was established by the Board of Education at inception of the process (before and on the meeting of June 22, 2017, Policy 6010 – Standards B). This obvious diversion from the original protocol, by contradiction, casts a fatal shadow over the entire process.

2)    Use of non-current or outright incorrect assumptions. Wide-ranging and life-changing decisions are being forced and made using non-current or outright incorrect data/assumptions/ information that are clearly leading to AAC and faulty-process-driven scenarios that make very little to no sense to the majority of affected (and unaffected) members of Howard County. This shakes the confidence of those in the community and those considering the community as a long-term home, which is clearly against any reasonable community’s and its leadership’s interests. This obvious diversion from the established protocol alone should cause the Board to abandon this redistricting process and reject its results.

3)    Lack of incorporation of community dynamics into decision-making process. Clear lack of understanding (within process) of historical and long-dated community dynamics in the redistricting process and proposals that have materialized to this point (inter-polygon, inter-school, and on a wider basis). The absence of understanding of the qualitative aspects of Howard County, has very unfortunately placed disproportionate weight on the often inaccurate and outdated (yet critical) population, student, economic, and other data being used to drive the process. Community stability, the number two criteria set in the redistricting process, is clearly breached by the trend shared in this section 3. This omission is, by contradiction, rendering the redistricting process null.

4)    Longer commute time for many students causing earlier day starts for students. The AAC proposals issued to date are in direct conflict with the Board of Education’s near-term objectives of enabling longer sleep hours for county students ie. when students must awake 30 minutes earlier to accommodate far longer driving/busing times, the original and well-intentioned objective of creating clearer minds in the classrooms is neutralized. This obvious diversion from the original direction set by the Howard County Board of Education is, by contradiction, rendering the redistricting process null.

5)    Violation of various established walking area designations. The latest redistricting plans violate various established walking area designations, and worse, ship students to schools (in various cases) that are twenty (20) times further than the obvious-option nearby community school. While this deviation from Board of Education-established policy/boundaries burdens all affected, it disproportionately harms the residential areas of lesser economic means that must find ways (possibly against their economic means) of getting to and from schools. This reality is further worsened when after-school programs are involved, which is often the case. This ideal collides directly against Howard County’s long-ago determined principle of providing equitable access to quality public education to all its county residents, and thus renders the current redistricting process null.

6)    Lack of broad Howard County resident representation in Committee. The lack of balanced Howard County resident representation in the AAC, as disclosed via response to a recent community inquiry, has seemingly resulted in various areas in Howard County (in the latest AAC-issued proposals) being disproportionately-affected (and some not) in issued plans. No AAC actions to date have proven this trend will not continue. As such, this trend is likely to result in slanted outcomes/proposals to the Superintendent (and thereafter the Board of Education), against the broader interests of Howard County and its members. Additionally, AAC members were initially volunteered (by the AAC coordinator) as representatives of the different communities within the county and that approach hasn’t materialized in the least, limiting community input against the original intent. This counterproductive and conflicted set of actions, by definition, renders the redistricting process null.

7)    Process not addressing the fundamental issues affecting the county’s schools. This redistricting process, or its outcome, does not set the stage for or leads to better coordination between the county offices that issue building permits and the Board of Education. Better short, mid, and long-term coordination is a fundamental county need that is not being addressed, and which should be addressed immediately (instead) to prevent the current capacity dilemmas affecting a few county schools. That focused initiative will lead to new schools and better countywide planning, which is far less disruptive (and far more conducive) to the county’s long-term interests.

 Until the troubling issues set out above (and the many others not outlined) can be satisfactorily resolved, the correct and responsible approach would be for the Howard County Board of Education, and its School Superintendent to suspend the current process until such time as the process can be run appropriately and equitably, based on established protocols.  Furthermore, such process should remain suspended until Howard County Government’s and residents’ common long-term objectives can be considered and incorporated. For example, such objectives must include a close coordination between real estate development and education that can lead to strategically-placed new schools in the county. This is the only way to avoid sacrificing our children’s future (and perhaps the county’s).

To the School Superintendent and the Board of Education, do the right thing for your residents: Please do not reverse the hard-earned tradition of educational excellence in Howard County.



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