In the fall of 1979, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted to close four schools. One was English Manor Elementary School in Rockville. The community protested vigorously and angrily.
Carrying placards and petitions, English Manor supporters packed the board's public hearings. They prepared a 60-page, statistic-laden document explaining why the school should stay open. Parents of deaf students made emotional pleas in sign language and other parents filed a lawsuit to prevent the board from closing English Manor.
It didn't help. By July 1980, the doors of the red-brick building on Bestor Drive were closed and bolted. And the 18-year-old school joined 33 other schools the county had shut since 1973 because of shrinking enrollments. Since then, another 27 schools have been scheduled for closing.
But what happens after a school is closed?
Once the battle is lost, can a community heal its wounds? Can children adjust to a strange school? What happens to the teachers and principal and to the building itself?
This story is about the impact of one school closing on the people and community involved, what happens after the battle is over and how, in time, it all works out. By DIANE GRANAT Special to The Washington Post II t's the little things that leave lasting impressions. Like not getting to be a safety patrol I member, one of the "perks" of sixth grade. Or not being selected for the school chorus because the music teacher at the new school doesn't know you.
Other than minor disappointments like these, there seem to have been few problems for most of the children who left English Manor in the summer of 1980, according to parents. Most children quickly adapted to their new surroundings, made new friends and did about as well academically as they did at English Manor.
All of the 325 pupils at English Manor were assigned to Lucy Barnsley Elementary School on Nadine Drive in Rockville, about a mile away from their old school. But the parents of about 66 students transferred their children to Brookhaven Elementary School on Renn Street in Rockville because it was within walking distance. Most of the new Barnsley students were bused to school.
Several parents said their children viewed the move as an adventure although a few found it hard to cope with the larger schools--Barnsley has 475 pupils and Brookhaven has 450--and some children concluded their new school would never measure up to English Manor.
"The teachers in English Manor were all like a family," said pupil Joanna Poole, who moved to sixth grade at Brookhaven when English Manor closed. "In Brookhaven they were more just like teachers, they weren't your friends."
Although students and teachers said the children now are well-integrated into their new schools, several said there was a strong "us-versus-them" attitude during the first year at Barnsley. Children were labeled as the "English Manor kids" and little was done to make them feel at home, parents said.
At Brookhaven, on the other hand, parents said an all-out effort was made to blend their students with the new arrivals from English Manor. Now, said Brookhaven Principal Malcolm Halliday, "I can't even tell you who's who."
Some of the parents who worried most about the move to a new school were those whose children were in English Manor's classes for the deaf and hearing impaired. The auditory program had been moved the year before from another school and parents were anxious to stay at English Manor, where hearing students warmly accepted the deaf pupils by learning sign language.
Marcia Rosenheim, whose daughter Jessica, then 6, was in a class for the hearing impaired, said in 1979: "How she can make new friends in new surroundings and keep her spirit up I don't know."
Looking back two years later, Rosenheim said, "Things worked out fine. Except my daughter had the idea that every year she goes to a different school."
"Kids are very tough. It's sometimes harder on parents," said Anna Poole, a PTA officer at English Manor who was active in the fight to save the school.
"People stop talking with one another. Neighbors are pitted against neighbors. We played elementary educational espionage."
Among the parents who were most fervent about the survival of English Manor, there is still a trace of bitterness. For several, including Poole, the anger resurfaced this fall when they became engaged in new battles over the proposed closings of Barnsley, Brookhaven, nearby Parkland Junior High School and Robert Peary High School. Peary was the only school to be ordered closed.
Poole actively defended Parkland Junior High School in the recent struggle and she also became involved in the debate over Peary's future.
"My daughter's elementary school was closed, her junior high school was up for closing and now they've closed (the) high school" she was supposed to attend, Poole said. "It's sort of like she's leaving a trail of dust."
After the board made its decision to close English Manor, a split occurred in the community. Half the parents were ready to accept the verdict, but the other half started a lawsuit challenging the board's action, recalled Bob Kripowicz, PTA president during English Manor's final year.
"They dragged it on and made it difficult," Kripowicz said. After the lawsuit was dropped in the spring of 1980, "the transition started to go more smoothly."
By losing their local school and a center for activities like Girl Scouts and square dancing, several parents said, the community was robbed of an important anchor.
"The neighborhood has totally changed. Now we're linked with two other neighborhoods and we have no identity of our own," said Janet Pitchersky, a former English Manor PTA president.
After English Manor closed, many homeowners were worried that the building would be vacant for a long time or that it would be used for a commercial purpose incompatible with their residential enclave. Generally, they were pleased when two Jewish day schools and a nursery school quickly moved in, but were upset when the school became the target of anti-Semitic vandalism.
Some of the parents are more reluctant to get involved in school affairs as a result of the English Manor closing.
Said Virginia Murphy, the parent of a former English Manor pupil now at Barnsley: "I haven't felt as anxious to get involved in that school. I could walk right over and volunteer my time at English Manor. But now I have to get in the car and drive over to Barnsley. It's more a disruption of the day." Yet at the same time, David Edfors, a former English Manor parent, is president of the Barnsley PTA this year, and lent his experience with school closings to the successful struggle to save Barnsley.
For some teachers, English Manor was just a job. For others, leaving was like parting with family.
"Just being at a place for a while you see kids coming through the school, you become involved with the nucleus of active parents, you create a reputation in the neighborhood. You really do build up a tie with the school," said Bill Wydro, 35, who taught fourth, fifth and sixth grades for eight years at English Manor.
After English Manor closed, Wydro took a job at Connecticut Park Elementary School, slated to close in 1983. Several teachers went to Barnsley and others on the 20-member faculty found jobs in other county schools. Principal Robert Stevens transferred to Clarksburg Elementary School in northern Montgomery.
Wydro said it was "very traumatic" looking for a new job after English Manor's fate was announced because "English Manor was my first and only full-time teaching job." For several months he was interviewed at other schools in the county before accepting a job teaching fifth grade at Connecticut Park in Wheaton. The first year was difficult, he said, because he needed to adjust to a new set of textbooks and new rules at Connecticut Park.
Having gone through the closing of Hillandale Elementary School in 1977, sixth-grade teacher Bruce Bayer was prepared when he faced the closing of English Manor three years later.
"You come to realize that you work for the county and the county will find you a job somewhere," said Bayer, who went to Barnsley. "Teachers are beginning to feel more like the military or federal government employes: If the government needs you in Ottumwa, Iowa, you go."
Bayer said advantages of switching jobs include working with a new principal and getting a taste of a different environment. Also, he said, "A larger school offers more flexibility for teachers and students. There are more teachers at each grade level and they can offer a greater variety of teaching styles and personalities."
Like Bayer, former English Manor Principal Robert Stevens went through the closing of Hillandale. He said he's not the kind to stay put anyway. "I would prefer to move around and meet new people and face new opportunities," he said.
After developing an academic program and building a cohesive staff, "it is demoralizing" when a school closes, Stevens said. "You feel like you have put a lot into it and then to have it close, without having any control over its destiny," is a letdown.
"The principal is really in the middle," Stevens observed. While he may agree with certain parent arguments, "There's no question I'm an employe of the school system. The principal is very wise to stay pretty much out of it."
Stevens said he "thoroughly enjoys" his new post in Clarksburg, as well as the security of knowing that the school, located in the county's growing region, is not likely to close in the near future. "Having been through it twice," he said, "I made it clear to (Superintendent Edward) Andrews that I wasn't interested in a school that was closing."
In retrospect, most things worked out. But many English Manor crusaders still have strong opinions about the closing.
"Obviously, when you're just closing a building, it's easy," said Anna Poole. "But you can't just look at bricks and a building. You have to look further than that. There's more than providing textbooks or a certain teacher-pupil ratio. There's a certain chemistry that goes on in a school that you can't always move."
"The school closing process tends to pit communities against each other when they're making a case before the school board," said teacher Bruce Bayer. "It's an adversary system that leaves you for a while with the taste of an argument.
"It takes a while to get over that," Bayer concluded. "Then a new common interest is created in the new school, and you want to make it work for the kids."