Parents Sue to Halt School Boundary Changes
Group Claims Board Violated Policies, Exceeded Authority in Plan to Reroute Students

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A parent group from western Fairfax County announced yesterday that it is seeking a legal order to reverse a School Board decision to reroute thousands of students among five high schools in coming years.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Fairfax County Circuit Court, alleges that the board action was "arbitrary and capricious" because, among other reasons, members violated board policies when they decided which neighborhoods would be subject to attendance-zone changes and because they did not sufficiently analyze impacts on transportation or costs.

The suit also alleges that the board exceeded its authority when it sought to balance socioeconomic characteristics in the schools.

On Feb. 28, the board approved a plan to increase the enrollment of South Lakes High School in Reston over the next several years by shifting students who had been zoned to Westfield High School in Chantilly and Oakton and Madison high schools in Vienna. In addition, some students were rerouted from the Chantilly High School zone to the Oakton zone. The plan also moved some students from Wolftrap Elementary School in Vienna to Sunrise Valley Elementary in Reston and from Thoreau Middle School in Vienna to Hughes Middle in Reston.

Fairfax schools spokesman Paul Regnier said he would not comment on pending litigation.

The suit lays out facts "ignored or not taken into account" by the board, said Steven David Stone, an attorney for 11 parents from various neighborhoods affected by the new zones. The suit challenges not only the way board members made their decision "but whether they have the power to do it," he said.

Stone said he is not aware of a recent legal precedent for overturning a school boundary change in Fairfax.

Parents hope to have a court hearing before the new boundaries take effect in the fall. About 100 people have donated money to support the litigation so far, according to Nick Pesce, president of a group of parents opposed to the boundary changes.

William Browning, one of the plaintiffs, has a son at Oakton High and an eighth-grader now slated to attend South Lakes High. He said he hopes the "lawsuit will at least draw attention to what the School Board is doing. . . . They need to be held accountable more so than they have been in the past."

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