As the Fairfax County school closing issue reaches a crescendo at public hearings this week, parents from the Pohick area are lining up on a related issue they consider just as volatile.
For parents in that rapidly growing area, the issue is a series of proposed boundary changes that would shift more than 2,000 children in 50 elementary schools throughout the county.
"When you change a boundary you've closed a school to those kids," declares one parent from Hunt Valley Elementary School in Springfield.
Louis and Paula Consagra couldn't agree more, and they are furious about the proposed boundary changes.
The Consagras live in the Lake Forest subdivision and have two children enrolled at Hunt Valley, a traditional school with self-contained classrooms. But if the proposed boundary changes are approved, the two Consagra children would attend Orange Hunt next year, a school with open classrooms.
Louis Consagra is a Marine who is transferred frequently. When they were transferred to the Washington area almost a year ago, they said, they spent more time selecting a good school than looking for a house, and one of their top priorities was to steer clear of open classrooms because of problems their children had had in the past.
"We knew Orange Hunt was right down the road," Paul Consagra said, "so we asked everyone -- the principal, the realtors, the neighbors -- 'is there any chance our kids would go to Orange Hunt.' We were assured that they wouldn't."
But several weeks ago, when Fairfax Superintendent L. Linton Deck released his proposal to close eight elementary schools and change numerous school boundaries, the Consagras discovered that their children and 94 others at Hunt Valley would attend Orange Hunt in the fall. c
"It's an insidious offshoot of the school closings," charges Consagra, who contended the boundary changes would receive more public attention if the school closings weren't so extensive this year.
School planner Ralph Bell says boundary changes always bring howls of protest from residents, but concedes that the planning staff may not have given enough attention to the differences between Hunt Valley and Orange Hunt.
"We considered that, but perhaps not as heavily as we should have," he admits.
Bell says that before the decision was made, however, school officials consulted the principals of both schools and concluded that "no damage would be done" to students who were transferred.
School administrators say the proposal is designed to relieve overcrowding at Hunt Valley and to better utilize space at Orange Hunt, which school officials predict will be underenrolled in the future. They say the proposal is being made now because the area is still undeveloped and would affect only a few families.
"Ideally, we would be moving just a piece of geography without any people on it," says school board member Toni Carney, whose district is affected by the boundary change.
In attempting to diffuse some of the community anger, school officials have noted that Orange Hunt has been modified in recent years with partitions and walls to make it more traditional.
But parents, like the Consagras, who are critical of the open classrooms, say they are angry because the move seems at odds with officials' contention that transfers would cause little disruption for students.
At a workshop earlier this month, Deck revealed his rationale for closing schools, emphasizing that attempts would be made to allow most children to continue with an identical educational program.
Deck presented chart after chart showing that in most cases displaced students not only would have the same reading and math texts in their new schools, but even the same type of report cards.
Angry Springfield parents are asking why that same rationale did not apply to boundary changes.
"This is so much more than report cards and reading programs," says one parent. "This is a whole different educational experience. How can they [school officials] be so worried about report cards in the areas where they're closing schools and just dump a whole bunch of kids into an open classroom without batting an eye?"
Board member Carney agrees that detailed information should have been provided for the boundary changes, but maintains that the educational programs at Orange Hunt and Hunt Valley are similar.
"I think that as a result of the type of information Dr. Deck provided with the school consolidations, it is only fair that we do the same for future boundary changes," she says.
Carney, like many of her constituents, believes boundary changes cause just as much upheaval as school closings.
"In some ways, it's far easier to close schools than change boundaries because in a boundary change some people get to stay," she says. "Boundary changes are just really horrible."