The Montgomery County school board's decision early yesterday to close North Chevy Chase Elementary School has outraged school leaders who say they will appeal to the Maryland Board of Education.
By a 6-to-1 vote, with school board member Blair Ewing against, the board approved a plan that would transfer North Chevy Chase's highly successful magnet program to Rosemary Hills Elementary. The board also voted to close Rollingwood Elementary and move its students to Chevy Chase Elementary.
"We are outraged," said North Chevy Chase PTA President Sara Mazie, noting that some students won't want to go to Rosemary Hills and thus will drop out of the magnet program.
North Chevy Chase grouped students according to skill level and subject, rather than by traditional grades.
At a special session that began Wednesday night and ended early yesterday, the board also voted to make other grade reorganizations in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster, move three predominantly white elementary schools into the attendance area of Eastern Intermediate School, and defer a decision on Montgomery Blair High School's attendance pattern until December.
The board voted last fall to close Rosemary Hills, a symbol of integration efforts in the county. The board's conservative majority also voted at that time to increase Eastern's minority population by 18 percent and siphon students from Blair High.
After a lengthy appeals process, the Maryland Board of Education overturned each of those decisions as "arbitrary and unreasonable" because they placed an inordinate burden on minority students at Rosemary Hills and seemed to violate the board's racial balance policies.
"People are very discouraged," said Sally Popper of the Rosemary Hills PTA. "The board tried to meet the minimum legal requirements of the state without leaving an adequate program at Rosemary Hills. North Chevy Chase had an excellent program, but they are sending it to a school that doesn't want it."
But school board member Joseph Barse, who drafted the resolution passed by the board, disagreed, saying, "We have an excellent opportunity to use the North Chevy Chase magnet, a proven success, as a magnet at Rosemary Hills."
One community clearly pleased by yesterday's decision was Chevy Chase Elementary. Under a substitute proposal offered by school Superintendent Edward Andrews, Chevy Chase would have remained part of a K-2, 3-6 (kindergarten to grade 2; grades 3 to 6) pairing with Rosemary Hills. Under the plans adopted last night, Chevy Chase will have 500 students in its own K-6 organization, and its percentage of minority students will drop from 39.8 percent to 26 percent.