Parents in the Hollin Hall area of eastern Fairfax County are plastering "Save Our School" signs around their neighborhood, turning out in droves for school meetings and challenging the validity of information provided by the school system. The flurry of activity has one purpose: to keep their neighborhood school, Hollin Hall, open.
School officials say they are not surprised by the campaign -- school closings are always an emotional issue -- and vow to proceed with the closing study as originally planned.
Last year, a citizens' task force designed a cluster method of studying schools, in response to public displeasure with past school closings. Central to the plan is community involvement.
School planners were directed to identify "trigger" schools -- schools with declining enrollments and higher than average operating costs. Trigger schools were then arranged in a cluster with neighboring schools, with each school being studied for possible closing.
School officials kicked off this year's closing study with four "clusters." A committee of teachers, principals and community members was appointed for each cluster and asked to study the schools. Those studies are now coming to a close, and committees are expected to present their recommendations to the school board April 11.
In spite of assurances to the contrary, some Hollin Hall parents accuse school officials of rigging the study of their school.
"It could be rigged," says Carol Westerman, a Hollin Hall parent and a member of the cluster committee studying the eight schools in that area. "I've never been fully convinced it isn't. But I guess we won't know for sure until the school board decides which schools to close."
"There are schools that feel safe," alleges Jim Borland, the father of two Hollin Hall pre-schoolers, who is spearheading the battle to save Hollin Hall Elementary. "In the beginning, representatives from the Fort Hunt Elementary School weren't even coming to the meetings. I think that indicates those people feel that (Fort Hunt) is safe because their school wasn't a trigger school."
School officials insist that all schools are being treated equally.
"If some representatives feel 'safe,' they are mistaken," said the beleagured school planning director Nathaniel Orleans. "Each school is being studied for closing and we have no preconceived notions about which schools might eventually be closed.
Hollin Hall parents, however, say their school is the victim of erroneous information. They point to figures showing a rapid decline in enrollment at Hollin Hall -- figures they say are wrong.
"What they don't tell you is that at least 32 students have been allowed to transfer out of our school into other county schools, 23 of those kids are at Waynewood," Borland says angrily. "If those students were in our population, we would not meet the triggering condition for enrollment.
"We believe that many of those parents asked to have their children transferred because they've been told that Hollin Hall was going to close next year anyway."
"Untrue," said Area I Superintendent Herman Howard who puts the final seal of approval on all pupil transfers.
"I've turned down numerous requests over the telephone from parents who wanted their kids out of Hollin Hall because they were afraid the school would be closed. All of the transfers were made within the guidelines the school board has established."