Crowd Drops for 3rd Meeting on Boundary Proposals

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 20, 2007

A meeting last night to discuss a proposal to shift students around five high schools in western Fairfax County drew about half the audience of the two previous gatherings, which were attended by many parents protesting the plan.

Fewer than 1,200 people gathered at Oakton High School last night for the last of three town hall-style meetings. Two previous meetings each attracted at least 2,000 people, many lobbying to stop the boundary adjustment process. School officials said the turnout last night could indicate that fewer parents think their children would be affected by a boundary change.

At a meeting Dec. 3, school officials presented four proposals that would affect many areas of western Fairfax. Last night, people were asked to comment on only one plan, which would shift high schools for about 900 students over the next four years.

School officials have urged parents to stay engaged because the proposal could change before they make a final recommendation to the School Board on Jan 10. The last day to submit comments online at the district's Web site, http://http:/www.fcps.k12.va.us/index.shtml, is Friday.

At issue last night was a suggestion by school system staff members to move some future students from Oakton High, Westfield High and Madison High to South Lakes High; others would attend Oakton High instead of Chantilly High.

Parents crowded into the lobby before the meeting, handing out stickers adorned with their school mascots and slogans such as "Friends of Madison." Some parents who live in the Floris Elementary attendance area whose children would go to South Lakes High rather than Westfield High asked neighbors to sign a letter to the School Board opposing the proposal.

"We have a sense of community" based around Westfield, said Amy Lei, a mother of two elementary school students. "My children don't want to go to that school."

Some parents who live in the McNair Elementary attendance area, in which students would not change high schools under the proposal, said they are appealing to the School Board and state lawmakers to stop the process. They are concerned that the proposal could change and affect them.

David Gu, a parent of two children at Oak Hill Elementary, said his first choice is to stop the redistricting. But, he said, "we will support this proposal."

Other parents whose children would not be affected supported the proposal, including many from Herndon High.

The strongest opposition came from parents whose children would have to change schools in coming years.

"This process is so divisive," said Lisa Capalbe, who lives in the Fox Mill Elementary area. "All the neighborhoods are trying to throw the other neighborhoods under the bus." She said her family moved out of the South Lakes district to the Oakton district seven years ago, but her middle school-age daughter would be transferred back under the staff plan.

Another parent, Caroline Hemenway, said she transferred her son out of Oakton and into the underpopulated South Lakes because of the International Baccalaureate program.

She and other South Lakes parents said they support the proposal, which would bring South Lakes enrollment from about 1,400 to more than 2,000 over the next four years.

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