Jacobs said racial, ethnic and class diversity in the public schools is important: “There is always value in people from different backgrounds coming together to learn and borrow from each other.”
Nicole Nelson, vice president of the John Hanson Montessori School in Oxon Hill, said that she and many of her friends have considered pulling their children out of the county’s public school as class sizes expand. She said she has grown frustrated with the school system.
“Sometimes you stay because you want to help change, but sometimes the obstacles are overwhelming, fighting for the basic things that our students need,” Nelson said. “When we lose middle-class parents, it certainly hurts the school system because they bring a certain expectation of education.”
Al Harper, a real estate agent from Fort Washington, and his wife, Marleen, have such expectations. Instead of sending their niece and nephew to the neighborhood public school, they spend $3,400 a month to send the children to private school. They said they know others who have avoided the public schools in other ways.
“I know people who have bought investment property in Virginia so they have an address for their kids to go to school there,” Harper said. “I just thank God that we can afford to send them to school, where we have an option that is not totally dependent on the public schools.”
Sonya Brathwaite, a Bowie resident and the mother of two sons who attend private school, said private schools offer what she considers to be “the basics” that are not offered in some of the public schools.
“You get the art; you get the [physical education], you get a lot of things that they keep cutting” in the public schools, Brathwaite said.“At Glendale they have PE in a relocatable. It’s laughable. They get art breaks three or four times a year. I know budgets are tight, but there are certain things that every school should have.”
Brian Woolfolk, an attorney who lives in Fort Washington, said there are not enough options available for students in Prince George’s. There are specialty and charter schools, but there aren’t enough of them and the space is limited.
Aaliyah Howell’s classroom at Holy Trinity has 14 students. Her father said that when he recently volunteered for a career day at Kettering Elementary School, there were 34 students in the classroom, with one teacher.
“That is a big issue,” he said. “When you have that many kids in the classroom, there are questions about the attention that you can devote to one child.”
Howell wants to stop spending the $10,000 in tuition he pays each year for his daughter. But until the school system can address classroom size, recruiting and retaining qualified teachers and providing them with the resources needed to provide a “world-class” education, Howell said he won’t take a chance with his daughter’s future.