Less than two months before the expected release of the final countywide boundary analysis report and more than seven months since the last related event, Montgomery County Public Schools next week will debut one of the project’s major features.
In Jan. 2019, the Montgomery County Board of Education authorized a comprehensive review of all school boundaries throughout the county. The exercise is intended to evaluate how current boundaries “support or impede” students’ access to diverse schools, schools that aren’t crowded and schools within walking distance of their homes, according to school district officials.
The controversial analysis has revealed deep divides in the community about how boundaries should be drawn.
For some, diversifying schools and breaking up concentrations of poverty is the main priority. For others, ensuring students attend the schools closest to their homes is the most important.
On Wednesday afternoon, MCPS issued a press release that said it will unveil the project’s “interactive tool,” in a series of webinars next week. The tool is a highly anticipated feature of the project that will allow people to compare how boundaries affect schools’ demographics and enrollment.
The two webinars will be held via Zoom on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Both webinars will begin at 7 p.m., and people interested in participating can register online. A third meeting will be held Oct. 28, during which consultants leading the project (from WXY Architecture + Urban Design) and MCPS will solicit feedback about the tool. Consultants will also hold smaller-scale “engagement sessions” with principals, students and “hard-to-reach communities,” according to the MCPS press release.
The boundary analysis’ final report was originally expected to be released in June, but the school district delayed the release by six months, to Dec. 1, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The project’s interim report was released in March, similarly on a delayed schedule.
The 580-page interim report included a review of WXY’s community engagement efforts; an analysis of data about schools’ demographics, capacity and enrollment; and next steps.
Consultants estimate that about 2,250 people attended the six community meetings held about the analysis. Most attendees were white and Asian parents of MCPS students, according to the WXY report. About 40% of attendees resided in the Bethesda area, while about 30% were from the Silver Spring area.
Nearly half of all people who attended said they were “skeptical” of the process, while about 31% said it “is an important effort that we need,” according to the interim report.
School board members and MCPS employees have been adamant that the analysis will not result in “surprise” boundary changes. Consultants can’t tell the board what boundaries to change. If board members want to use the data to make changes, they have to initiate a separate time-intensive process, according to MCPS policy.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com