Fairfax County approves school boundary change

The Fairfax County School Board late Thursday approved a boundary change that will move about 500 students in the fall of 2014, an effort to address crowding at two schools in Fairfax City.

The vote came 11 months after the city requested that the board consider a change to alleviate over-enrollment at Fairfax High School and the potential for over-enrollment at its feeder school, Lanier Middle. Although the schools are within city limits, and part of the Fairfax city school system, about 65 percent of their students come from surrounding county neighborhoods.

Fairfax High’s enrollment is above 2,600 students, making the school about 9 percent over capacity. The high school’s enrollment is projected to exceed 3,000 within five years.

Although Lanier Middle is 5 percent below capacity, the school is projected to become crowded in the next five years, school officials said.

No students who live within the limits of Fairfax City would be affected by the boundary changes. Instead, the School Board chose to shift some students who live outside city limits from Fairfax High and Lanier Middle to county schools.

By the fall of 2017, when the shifts are completed, about 1,000 middle and high school students would be assigned to new schools, including Chantilly High, Oakton High, Woodson High and Robinson Secondary, which is a middle and high school.

At the middle school level, students would be moved to Frost, Franklin, Rocky Run and Robinson Secondary.

The board voted to allow rising seventh- and ninth-grade students to transition to their newly assigned schools next fall and to “grandfather in” older students, letting them finish at their original schools.

Overall, the boundary changes would keep enrollment at Fairfax High for the next five years close to its current level, about 2,630 students.

At times on Thursday, the boundary change vote elicited passionate discussions from School Board members. Braddock representative Megan McLaughlin said in an emotional speech that she was deeply upset by fellow board members who did not speak out as they considered several amendments.

One of McLaughlin’s amendments, to expand the number of students allowed to stay at their original schools, failed in a 9 to 3 vote.

“This is the most disappointing night of my time on the School Board,” McLaughlin said. “This is a shameful evening.”

In the future, the school system will have a new way to approve boundary changes. On Thursday, the board approved an expedited process that will give the superintendent the ability to move students to new schools with board approval as long as less than 15 percent of the population at each school will be affected.

The board also approved placing a $250 million bond on the November 2014 ballot to provide funding for two new elementary schools and renovations at nine elementary schools and a middle and a high school.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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