The emotion-charged school closing issue, under scrutiny by Fairfax County citizens for the past several months, will be brought to the forefront Saturday morning when four advisory committees present the school board with their recommendations on which elementary schools should be closed at the end of this school year.
School administrators say they expect community involvement in the studies to quash the angry protests that have marked school closing discussions in other jurisdictions. However, this week's school board meeting, regularly scheduled for tonight in the tiny board room on Page Avenue in Fairfax, has been moved to Jefferson High Shool auditorium -- just in case. The meeting will be at 9 a.m. Saturday.
In December, the school board identified 29 elementary schools -- mostly in the eastern part of the county -- to be studied for possible closing. The 29 schools were divided into four clusters, generally along geographic lines, and assigned to four citizens advisory committees for study. The committees for study. The committees included three members from each of the schools and nonvoting representative from the school planning services department. Now, after 2 1/2 months, the committes are spending this week writing their reports.
Each panel will present a report representing the majority view of the committee. In addition, members from two of the four committees will present dissenting views, including a recommendation that one of the four area superintendents close that office instead of schools.
Of the four clusters formed this year by the school board, only two have recommended that schools be closed.
Cluster A: Belle View, Bucknell, Fort Hunt, Hollin Hall, Hollin Hills, Hollin Meadows, Stratford Landing, Waynewood. The majority report recommends that no schools be closed.
The cluster received a considerable amount of publicity during the study, due in part to an active group of parents from Hollin Hall that organized that community and encouraged citizens to attend cluster meetings in force.
Mary Walker, the planning services representative to the committee, said the decision to close no schools was not unanimous. At least eight of the 24 committee members favored closing Hollin Hills and Hollin Hall, but none of the dissenting members have said they will file a minority report.
However, Reginald Anderson a committee member from Fort Hunt Elementary, said an alternative would be included in the final recommendation: "Our proposal is that if there is any closing at all, it should be the Area I (administrative) office."
Cluster B: Cameron, Clermont, Mount Eagle, Wilton Woods. The majority report recommends that no schools be closed.
Paul Stewart, a committee member from Wilton Woods, says all committee members agreed on the recommendation and no minority report is being written. However, Stewart is personally filing a report by a local pediatrician that outlines the effects of school closings upon children. In addition, Stewart is attaching 100 letters from Wilton Woods children asking that their school be spared.
Cluster B committee members asked the school board earlier this year to delay studying the cluster. Committee members maintained that three other schools -- Bush Hill, Rose Hill and Virginia Hills -- would have been included in the cluster had they not been held in reserve to accommodate an overflow of children from the Newington Forest area. When the board voted in January to ask the voters to consider a bond referedum to fund a new school in Newington Forest, Custer B asked to be dropped from the study. The request was denied by the board.
Cluster C: Annandale Terrace, Braddock, Bren Mar Park, Columbia, Edsall Park, North Springfield, Weyanoke. The committee decided to recommend that one school -- Edsall Park --- be considered for closing.
In an earlier straw vote, it seemed Annandale Terrace would be the school awarded that dubious honor. No minority report recommending Annandale Terrace is expected to be filed. However, committee members from Edsall Park say they will file a minority report asking for the closure of Bren Mar Park.
Juanita Conway, a committee member from Edsall Park, says the behind-the-scenes lobbying among members "would be a story in itself."
"It is my personal opinion that from the word 'go,' Edsall Park was pegged to be the one to go," Conway says. "But Bren Mar Park is the logical choice if you look at the quality of education, which is one of the things plannning services told us to look at. According to county tests, students there are achieving well below their ability level. In a school like Edsall Park, where students are achieving above their ability level, you can be sure something good is going on."
Cluster D: Beech Tree, Devonshire, Graham, Road, Masonville, Pine Spring, Shrevewood, Timber Lane, Walnut Hill, Westlawn Woodburn. The majority has voted to recommend two schools be studied for closing: Devonshire and Walnut Hill.
Representatives from the two schools accuse members from the other eight Cluster D schools of "ganging up" on them.
Pablo Sanchez, a committee member from Devonshire, said committee members from both schools are writing their own minority report asking that no schools be closed.
"All of the resolutions were by vote," says Sanchez. "They were voting against us -- we couldn't win.
"Our school, for instance, is the victim of boundary changes. They've taken almost 95 of our kids and sent them to other schools. This (minority report) is the only chance we have to say what we think."
As word of possible recommendations has leaked out, parents in the four clusters have already begun complaining about the reports and the entire school closing process.
"Why they didn't take into consideration the coming of Metro and the impact that will have on growth in the area is beyond me," says Cluster B committee member Paul Stewart.
Planning services director Nathaniel Orleans concedes that the school administration never "took Metro into consideration."
"Metro will not produce children -- it will produce jobs," Orleans said. "I don't know of a subway system in the world which increased the birthrate."
Community members also have questioned why school administrators did not wait for the results of the 1980 census to decide which schools would have long-term declining enrollment problems.
"We did not wait until after the census because you're really talking about 1982 for the information to be released," says Orleans.
While parents have come up with suggestions for revamping the closing process, school administrators have been doing their own evaluating and noting changes they hope to make during the next closing study.
"Hopefully, next year the school board will instruct the committees to recommend one school for closing if necessary," says one member of the planning services department. "If, for example, the board finds it necessary this year to close a school in each cluster, they will be acting with no guidance in the clusters where the only recommendation was to close no schools."
The school board is expected to take no action on Saturday. On April 24 Superintendent L. Linton Deck and the planning services staff are to submit their recommendations to the board.
The board has scheduled public hearings on the proposed closing for May 12 and 13 and is expected to make its final decision May 22.