For students from Charles Woodward High School who had crowded 400 strong into the back of an auditorium during a school board meeting, yesterday brought their worst fears. Their school was being closed.
The students sat through the emotional, five-hour hearing Tuesday night and early yesterday chanting and cheering loudly enough for the board members sitting on the stage to hear. They carried paper banners and cardboard signs and wore purple jerseys and purple graduation gowns to the meeting at Wheaton High School.
But their show of support failed to sway Montgomery County Board of Education members who voted 4 to 2 early yesterday to close Woodward in 1988 and merge it with Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, half a mile away. The merger proposal, one of the most divisive in county history, was based on declining enrollments at both schools.
"It was pretty disappointing," said Stacy Farrar, a junior at Woodward and president of the student government. "I don't think they paid much attention to our testimony or what we had to say."
At the school yesterday, she said, students were "really let down. It was really depressing, especially for the ones who know they can't graduate here."
Rob Bernstein, president of the Woodward PTA, said he will recommend that the PTA appeal the school board's decision to the state Board of Education. Bernstein had asked board members to defer a decision on Woodward for several years to see if projected enrollment declines occur.
But even as many supporters of Woodward High School were still decrying the school board's decision, other county residents began taking the board to task for failing to address effectively the problem of low enrollments at Richard Montgomery High School.
Parents from Richard Montgomery assailed the board for not assigning more students there.
Instead of voting to reassign one of two elementary schools to the Richard Montgomery school area, the board agreed to add special programs at the school to attract students voluntarily.
The board also decided to wait until 1988, when a new school is built in the Germantown area, to consider changing the attendance boundaries of many schools and at that time assigning more students to Richard Montgomery from the northwestern part of the county.
Richard Montgomery parents and board member Blair Ewing said the school needs help now, not in three years.
Richard Montgomery has 1,245 students this year but has room for 1,725. Its enrollment is expected to decline to 975 by 1990.
George Beckerman, president of the Richard Montgomery PTA, said his group will discuss next week whether it should ask the school board to close the school because the board has failed to solve the nagging problem of underenrollments, which limit the school's curriculum.
"Our problems were not addressed, they were put off," he said. "And we have no basis on which to expect anything might happen three years from now."
The board also turned down proposals to add more students to Richard Montgomery by redirecting students from Farmland Elementary School or from Ritchie Park Elementary School there. Farmland students now feed into Woodward and Ritchie Park students go to Wooten High School.
"The schools were built in the right places at the time they were built but they are not in the right places now, and to try to simply tinker with attendance boundaries is no longer useful," said board President Robert Shoenberg.
He said that the board in two years will undertake a major revision of all attendance boundaries countywide.
In other action, the board agreed not to change the status of Tilden Intermediate School or Luxmanor Elementary School.
Superintendent Wilmer S. Cody had proposed that Luxmanor be closed and its students transferred to Tilden. Under Cody's plan, Tilden students would have been sent to Woodward, which would have become an intermediate school.
The board also agreed to postpone until January a decision on closing Cabin John Junior High School in Rockville in 1987.
More than 1,000 persons jammed into the Wheaton auditorium for the meeting.
While six of the seven board members said during the meeting that they favored closing Woodward, only Marilyn Praisner, Peggy Slye, Blair Ewing and James Cronin voted for the motion to begin the consolidation.
Shoenberg and Jeremiah Floyd voted against that motion, and Sharon DiFonzo abstained.
To accommodate almost 2,000 students at the combined school by the year 2000, the board voted to put 10 portable classrooms at Walter Johnson at a cost of about $500,000.
Woodward has 955 students this year, and Walter Johnson has 1,023. Enrollment at each school was projected to dip below 800 by 1990.
During breaks, the students, carrying signs saying, "Woodward. Let It Be" and "Keep the Spirit Alive. Save Woodward," chanted school cheers. At times during the testimony, parents jeered at board members.
The battle over Woodward has been marked by uncharacteristic divisiveness and bitterness, pitting one group of Woodward parents who favored the merger against another group opposing it.
In recent weeks, one PTA president has received numerous telephoned death threats and several other PTA officials have been the targets of vandals, actions thought to be connected with the plan to close Woodward.
Rockville Mayor Steven Van Grack said yesterday it's time to put an end to the bitterness.
However, he admitted the healing process may take a long time because the board failed to take definitive action on assigning more students to Richard Montgomery.
Some communities, such as Ritchie Park and Farmland, fear they may again face the prospect of a reassignment into the Richard Montgomery area in several years.
"The healing process is going to be more difficult now since there are no real answers and everyone is where they were when this whole process began," Van Grack said.