The Fairfax County School Board faced the first major challenge to its school closing study at last week's meeting, but the board remained steadfast in its conviction that the study would proceed as planned.
Wearing pins that read "Cluster B," angry parents from four schools in the Franconia area filled the tiny board room in Fairfax City where they made a last-ditch attempt to block the closing study.
Under the school board plan, elementary schools have been grouped in "clusters" for study by community representatives and faculty members. Within the next month, the commitees are expected to present recommendations to the school board on which schools, if any, should be closed by the end of the school year.
The parents from Cluster B, which is made up of Wilton Woods, Clermont, Cameron and Mount Eagle schools, contended that the cluster was incomplete without including three other schools in the Franconia area -- Rose Hill, Virginia Hills and Bush Hill. Those three schools were eliminated from the closing studies after school officials found that there was a possible overcrowding problem in the area. Last month, however, the school board agreed to put a bond referendum on the ballot next year to fund a new school in Newington Forest, which would eliminate the overcrowding and the need to protect the three schools.
"We think, quite frankly, it is a violation of the board's own regulations for it to continue the cluster B study without the three Hill schools," asserted Michael Henke, a spokesman for Cluster B parents.". . . (Parents) perceive that the cluster has been gerrymandered to exclude three schools . . ."
School planning director Ned Orleans noted, however, that the parents' argument was based on the assumption that a new school would be built. "The (Newington Forest) school has not been built yet," he said, "nor has it been funded."
In addition, Orleans denied charges that school officials had singled out Cluster B for changes. "All clusters were moved around when the staff was working on the cluster studies."
School board member Anthony Lane, who represents the Franconia area, made a motion that the cluster be dropped from the study, but it died after failing to receive a second.
In other matters, the school board decided that despite criticism of the current grading system, the system will remain unchanged. The current system gives grades as follows: A, 94-100; B, 87-93; C, 80-86; D, 70-79, and F, below 70.
The grading system has come under fire from parents and students who say the C range should be widened and that the system results in unfair class ranking.
James Taylor II, student representative to the school board, promised to return to the board with recommendations from the student advisory council on the grading system.