While other parents fought to keep their schools open, Forest Grove parents fought to close theirs.
Now, after 1 1/2 years of being "used as chess pieces to move all around Montgomery County," said PTA President Nancy May, the weary community is sorry.
Since the small Silver Spring school asked to be closed, the school system has put Forest Grove in five separate school closing plans, has bused the students on paper to three different schools and--after deciding finally to merge Forest Grove with Oakland Terrace--has now come up with a new plan that would send Forest Grove students to yet another school, said May.
During this time, May and her copresident, Carol Maclure, estimate they have spent more than 600 hours each responding to the school system's plans to close the school, testifying at hearings, calling parents and preparing for the transition to Oakland Terrace. Hundreds more hours have been spent by other parents in the community.
With the new plan to send Forest Grove pupils to Woodland Elementary on the Montgomery County School Board agenda for consideration Monday, Maclure and May say they face the prospect of months more of the same.
"How many meetings can you go to?" asked May. "The community is just tired. People are distressed at the constant disruption. We worked harder than any other community to cooperate with the school board. We did not fight the closing. We did not fight the consolidation at Oakland Terrace. . . . But after all this, Carol and I feel like we might just as well not have bothered."
Both women say many Forest Grove parents, worn down by the uncertainty, already have enrolled their children in nearby parochial schools or transferred them to "more protected" public schools not threatened with closure.
The two women confess they are burned out. May vows to quit school affairs altogether. Maclure, who graduated from Forest Grove in the 1950s, is considering private schools for her children.
School board Chairman Eleanor Zappone, when told of Forest Grove's distress, said, "It's unfortunate . . . but I really think they shouldn't be terribly concerned."
She said she has tried to assure parents that although the future of Forest Grove will be discussed again next week, she doesn't expect the board to reverse its decision to consolidate the school with Oakland Terrace.
The latest plan is being considered--at the instigation of board member Blair Ewing--to appease two other dissatisfied schools, Woodland and Woodside. Their planned consolidation at Woodland next fall would require using portable classrooms. In addition, Ewing wants to address the racial imbalance at Woodland, which has nearly a 60 percent minority enrollment.
The board is allowing the Woodland-Woodside community to explore other options, Zappone said, just in case they have some "miraculous solution" to the problem.
Forest Grove parents point out that if the board reverses itself and merges their school with Woodland, all the students may have to be housed at Forest Grove until Woodland is renovated.
Despite Zappone's assurances, Forest Grove parents are skeptical. The school system has been "unresponsive" since the beginning, said Maclure.
Two years ago parents from Forest Grove and neighboring schools, concerned with the limited educational opportunities at their small schools, spent nearly a year on a plan to close Forest Grove and two other elementaries, May said. But the school board dismissed the plan with little study. Zappone disputes that, saying the school board "looked at it quite carefully."
The plan would have turned Sligo Junior High School into one "super elementary school" with more than 1,000 students, and a small junior high. Parents felt it would have provided the neighborhood with one strong school, but the plan had "enough drawbacks that I thought it was not a good solution," Zappone said.
Instead, the board and school staff took another year, haggling over plans and counterplans that would have sent Forest Grove students to Sligo Junior High under a different proposal, to Oakland Terrace, to Forest Knolls Elementary, and then back to Oakland Terrace.
Each time, the Forest Grove parents wrote letters, made phone calls and prepared speeches.
Last November, the board made a final decision: Forest Grove students would be bused to Oakland Terrace in the fall of 1982.
Relieved parents at both schools began preparing the children for the move. New friendships began as the Forest Grove children wrote essays about their new school, met their classmates and toured the Oakland Terrace classrooms.
But a month ago, the school board, reacting to Woodland's problems, changed its mind. Forest Grove once again was put on the agenda. Parents carrying placards sat at the meeting until after midnight, waiting for another decision. The decision never came. At 1 a.m. the board tabled the issue.
Forest Grove parents say the worst decision would be no decision at all. "We're very apprehensive that since the board deferred a decision to close Blair High School (until after the November elections) we might have to stay as we are for another year," said Maclure. "We've been waiting for two years to move on. To keep it lingering would be the final insult."
The board's actions have infuriated and alienated the Forest Grove community, said Maclure. "I feel they really have grossly violated us. . . . We're not going to burn anybody in effigy, we're not going to tar and feather anybody, we're not going to run them out of town, but we are dissatisfied."
Maclure says every school in the county that was threatened with closing has gone through an ordeal similar, at least in part, to Forest Grove's experience. Forest Grove's story is, in a sense, a composite of the anguish parents of other schools have felt and time they have spent trying to deal with a school bureaucracy "that's become so insular and uncaring," said Maclure.
"You can't imagine what this has done to the children," adds May. "You can feel it in the school. . . . People are really down. The kids say, 'Where are we going?' Especially the little kids. They ask, 'Why is our school closing? Don't they want us anywhere else?' "
Parents cannot explain the intricate financial and political reasons for closing schools, why the lack of bonded indebtedness gets one school closed and a popular day-care program keeps another one open. Montgomery parents and board members are discovering that closing schools is like playing chess: to move one piece sets off a chain reaction on the board.
Forest Grove, because it is small, said Maclure, has been used as a pawn "to fill whatever needs some other school has."
"I don't really think the board intends to do what they've done," said May. "It's just that the thing is so big, and small schools get lost in the shuffle. I don't think the board selected Forest Grove to get the shaft on every single plan--but it has worked out that way."
Maclure, who admits that her two-year term as Forest Grove PTA president has made her more cynical than she ever would have believed, said she attended a school budget briefing recently. School officials urged PTA officers to lobby the County Council to pass the budget for the good of the children.
"It was the first time I heard the word children used in years," said Maclure. Throughout the school closings, she said, officials have "talked about buildings, dollars, indebtedness.
"They still haven't told me what all this movement is going to do for the education of my children," Maclure said. "That makes me mad."