The community around the English Manor Elementary School in Rockville refuses to put its placards and petitions down. Although it has been more than a week since the Montgomery County school board cast its vote to close the school, the community will not accept it.
Three days ago, more than 150 people from the homes around the school on Bestor Drive massed for a protest rally in front of the small school building. Among them marched many of the school's deaf children, their sign language repeating the chants of "Keep English Manor Open."
For the parents of English Manor's 26 hearing-impaired students, the school board was doing more than just closing another school when it took its vote last week. The board, they say, was closing one of the few schools whose students have genuinely welcomed deaf children into their midst.
"It's hard to explain what it's like to have a school that is receptive to you unless you've seen the opposite," Jim Rosenheim said as he stood at the rally beside his wife and his 6-year-old daughter Jessica, who carried a sign reading "I Love English Manor."
"The acceptance [of deaf children] in this school has been exceptional," added Marcia Rosenheim, who drives her daughter to English Manor every day from their home in Chevy Chase. "How she can make new friends in new surroundings and keep her spirit up I don't know."
School system officials, however, say the decision to close the school and send its 30 students -- including those in the program for the hearing impaired to nearby Lucy Barnsley Elementary School was difficult but necessary.
English Manor was one of six elementary schools in the Aspen Hill cluster of schools in southern Rockville. Another school in the cluster, North Lake Elementary, had lost so many students the board had little choice but to close it, according to school officials.
But, they said, that was not enough: the decline in the overall enrollment in the cluster required the board to close another school as well.
The remaining choices were Barnsley and English Manor. English Manor, one school official said, was picked to avoid closing adjacent schools. "We wanted schools well dispersed in the cluster," said school planner George Fisher. "English Manor was the best of a bad choice."
"That's not a good reason," snapped one parent who attended the rally this week."
Several students and parents interviewed at the rally said the presence of the deaf pupils has added a welcome new dimension to the school. Sign language crossword games are now sold at PTA sales, and sign language books are checked out by students with perfect hearing.
"The conversation at our dinner table is in sign language every night," says Sandy Franklin, mother of three English Manor students with no hearing problems."English Manor's been as enriching for the ones who hear as for the ones who don't."
Another parent, newly sensitive to the problems of deaf children, decided to hire a clown to come to the house for a birthday party instead of taking her daughter and her friends to a restaurant.
Another parent at the rally was Jim Lindsay, a Manor Woods resident and deaf father of three English Manor pupils, only one of whom -- his first-grade daughter Kathy -- has difficulty hearing.Through an interpreter he said, "I want the school to stay open. I am very depressed that it is being closed."
The rally last week was Lindsay's first visit to the school. "Being deaf I understand how deaf children feel," he said. "They're really shy." Lindsay couldn't hear the crowd chanting "Keep English Manor Open" or chant along. But he sent the same message in his own language, first his wrists, then setting his fingers, and finally letting his hands flower out.