Just one month after the Loudoun County School Board adopted a new school attendance map that outraged many families in one eastern Loudoun community, several residents of the affected neighborhood filed a judicial petition May 23 to ask that the board’s decision be reviewed in court.
Members of Brambleton were among the most numerous and vocal participants at public hearings addressing the new boundaries for middle and high schools in the Ashburn and Dulles North area. The boundaries were necessary to accommodate the opening of three new schools over the next two years: Trailside Middle School and two unnamed high schools, HS-6 and HS-8.
After a weeks-long process that drew hundreds of eastern Loudoun residents to the School Board meeting room — many clad in color-coordinated shirts to show their neighborhood and school affiliation — the board members voted April 23 to adopt a plan that would reassign more than 500 Brambleton students from Briar Woods High School to HS-6.
Some Brambleton residents immediately called the board’s decision improper and warned of legal action. That threat materialized when nine residents filed a petition for judicial review in Loudoun County Circuit Court.
In the petition, the Brambleton residents allege that the School Board’s decision to rezone the majority of Brambleton high-schoolers was “arbitrary and capricious.” The board’s decision would mean that more than 520 students who currently walk to school would instead be bused to one outside their community, the petition says.
In addition to highlighting logistical concerns with the new attendance map, the petition alleges that School Board members engaged “in multiple acts of bad faith, including forming an improper voting alliance prior to the open proceedings.” Petitioners also say that School Board members advocated for “their self-interest or the interest of only certain individuals and communities over the interests of the entire district” in the process.
Controversy surrounding the adoption of new school zones is nothing new in Loudoun. Residents and elected officials often note the inevitability of disagreement in a process that triggers an impassioned reaction from residents, many of whom feel strongly about where their children go to school.
In recent years, some displeased communities have turned to litigation instead of settling for hard feelings once the necessary reassignments were final. Brambleton’s petition marks the third time that an attendance zone disagreement has escalated to a courtroom. In January 2012, residents of two Leesburg communities filed separate petitions for judicial review after the School Board adopted new attendance zones for Leesburg elementary schools. Loudoun Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne ruled in favor of the School Board in both cases.
Richard Kelsey, assistant dean for management and planning at George Mason University School of Law and one of the Brambleton petitioners, said his community is confident that their case will be more successful than their predecessors’. He referred to three exhibits included in the petition, which feature screen shots of Facebook posts by School Board member Kevin Kuesters (Broad Run), who lives in Broadlands. One exhibit shows a comment from Kuesters urging Broadlands residents to rally as “one solid coalition” behind a plan that would reassign Brambleton students, rather than Broadlands students, to the new high school.
“Don’t give any school members a reason to choose Brambleton,” Kuesters wrote, according to the exhibit.
The evidence attached to the petition represents “only the tip of the iceberg,” Kelsey said in an e-mail. “Given the facts here, I know the petitioners do not fear the standard on review.”
Wayde Byard, spokesman for Loudoun County public schools, said the School Board had been formally served with the petition Friday morning but declined to comment further on the pending litigation.