Tempers flared briefly last weekend when the Fairfax County school board received recommendations on school closing proposals from four citizen advisory committees.
The committees, appointed in December to study declining enrollment in elementary schools, recommended three schools be considered for closing -- Devonshire, Edsall Park and Walnut Hill.
At one point in the meeting Saturday, dozens of demonstrators from Edsall Park -- several wearing graduation gowns or cardboard turtle sheels -- marched through the auditorium at Jefferson High School.
The meaning of the turtle shells went unexplained, but no one missed the significance of the signs the demonstrators carried reading: "Small Schools Produce Leaders" and "Save Our School."
School board Chairman Rodney F. Page ordered the protesters from the room, but they reassembled outside the high school and continued to picket.
Representatives from four groups of schools that were part of the study ordered by the school board made oral presentations to the board when submitting their written reports.
The speakers took turns attacking the school administration's data, with population figures being a popular target.Speakers pointed to several factors as evidence the trend in declining school-age population in the county was beginning to reverse: the coming of Metro, the changing composition of neighborhoods where older residents are being replaced by younger ones and proposals for new subdivisions.
Two members of the county Board of Supervisors were on hand for the committee reports: Joseph Alexander (D-Lee) and Audrey Moore (D-Annandale). Alexander attended the meeting at the invitation of the committee that studied four schools in his district. The committee recommended no schools be closed in its area. In supporting citizens' recommendations that no schools be closed, Alexander displayed a map showing new construction in the area.
"Take a look at our area," urged Alexander as he unveiled an aerial photograph. "It is different from all other areas (in Faifax County) -- it's not all built up -- there is a lot of vacant land."
Alexander added that the scheduled opening in 1984 of the Van Dorn Metro stop was expected to produce a building boom similar to the one presently transforming the Huntington area.
Unlike Alexander, Supervisor Moore was no invited to speak on behalf of the committee from her area, and members voiced strong objection to her presence. School board Chairman Page, however, allowed Moore to speak out of deference to her office, but reminded her that the meeting was not designed to be a public hearing.
"I have an awful lot of sympathy with your situation," Moore began, as she addressed the board. "(School closings are like) administering a dose of castor oil."
But Moore said she believed no schools in her district, including Edsall Park, should be closed:
"I'd like to ask you to think about whether this is right for the community."
Moore's presence delighted Edsall Park parents, who said that while the committee as a whole did not support her position, they as individuals certainly did.
Like other speakers, Moore alleged the school-age population decline is about to take a dramatic turnaround: "You knock on the door and someone with a gray head is going to answer -- this is going to change."
No decision on the school closings was made at Saturday's meeting. School administrators are expected to make their own recommendations to the board at the April 24 meeting and a school closing workshop is scheduled for May 1. Public hearings are planned for May 12 and 13, and the school board is expected to make its final decision on May 22.