Proposals to revise Fairfax County's school-closing policy were presented to the school board at its meeting last week and, although only minor alterations were suggested, school board members grabbed the moment to question once again the year-old policy.
In particular, several board members questioned a change that would require the superintendent to review school enrollments each year for possible closing studies.
"I've had trouble with this school-closing policy for some time," said board member Gary L. Jones. "We're beginning to act as if it is a foregone conclusion that we will have school closings this year . . . I don't know if I want to go through that again this year."
Last spring, after more than six months of frequently acrimonious debate among board members and the community, the board approved the closing of seven elementary schools. Two groups of parents later challenged the closings in court, but lost their case to have the schools reopened.
The scars from last spring's battles were still tender last week, when what had been scheduled as a routine report expanded into a heated discussion over the closings issue.
Board Chairman Ann P. Kahn cautioned her colleagues not to be hasty in condemning the limited policy changes and took exception to Jones' concerns about an annual review of school enrollments.
She reminded board members that it was their responsibility to study enrollment figures and that the proposed changes in the policy followed a lengthy evaluation of last year's process by community members, principals and teachers. Only minor recommendations were made, she said, because only minor problems were reported.
"To avoid annual consideration of enrollment data would be irresponsible and inappropriate," Kahn said. "When we talk about annual consideration, we are not talking about annual closings. I have read every one of the evaluations and most indicate the policy, in general, moves in the right direction."
Under the proposed changes, the superintendent would review enrollment figures and, if needed, would recommend to the board in December whether any schools should be studied for closing.
After that, citizen advisory committees would review the areas designated for study and would make recommendations to the school staff. The superintendent would then review the citizens' advice and make final recommendations to the board, which would make a decision on the issue by May. Last year, four areas including 29 schools were studied.
School board member Gerald Fill criticized the policy for not establishing specific criteria by which one school is chosen over another for closure.
The board is expected to consider the changes at its meeting Nov. 20.