Prince William School Board member Shapard Elmore (Woodbridge) surprised a group of Marumsco parents last week with a suggestion that they be allowed to choose the elementary school that their children will attend, a move that could resolve a lawsuit and bitter feelings generated by last year's boundary redrawings.

At a board work session on this year's boundary changes, Elmore said students in first through fourth grades at Featherstone Elementary should be allowed to decide whether to stay there or go back to Rippon Elementary next year.

"It's time for people to get what they want," he said.

At a meeting Saturday, Elmore and several of the parents tried to work out an alternative to last year's decision forcing their children to bypass Rippon for Featherstone.

Some parents wanted all the 100 or so children affected to be sent back to Rippon; others wanted each parent to decide for his or her child. Many had questions on exactly how the proposal would work; school officials had few answers.

"I think we all went away just as confused as we were when we came," said Elmore. He said he won't know what he's going to do with the suggestion, which could come up for a vote at the Dec. 5 board meeting, until the parents reach a consensus.

"We were more confused after leaving the meeting," echoed parent and plaintiff Judy Brewer, who had planned to put her questions to the board formally at its meeting this week.

The dispute started in February when the board unanimously approved a new boundary that sent about 100 children from Rippon to Featherstone, about a half-mile farther from their homes.

Brewer and Joanna Woodard filed a lawsuit against the board in March, alleging that it acted in a capricious and arbitrary manner, enacting the changes weeks after they were proposed instead of months later as other districts, such as Fairfax, had done.

In May, Supervisor Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge) asked Elmore, whom she had appointed to a four-year term on the board two years ago, to resign because he hadn't met with the affected parents and seemed unresponsive to their concerns. He refused.

The School Board sought to have the suit dismissed, but a Prince William Circuit Court judge ruled two weeks ago that the case had enough merit to go to trial. Then Elmore proposed letting the parents decide.

Brewer and Woodard said that even after meeting with Elmore and School Board Chairman Maureen S. Caddigan (Dumfries), many questions remain unanswered, chief among them what happens if all the parents want to send their children back to already crowded Rippon. Do they all get to go?

"It would very likely overcrowd the school at Rippon and Featherstone could be underenrolled," said Mary Weybright, who supervises planning for the district and was at the meeting, which about a dozen parents attended. She added that additional trailers could house the returning students.

Weybright said the boundary was redrawn in the first place at the board's instruction to reduce crowding, but that if the board now wants to accommodate more students, it can be done.

Brewer said it's too soon to know if the need for the suit will be eliminated. She said she wants her third-grader, Teresa, and a younger son to go back to Rippon.