Interpreter Stella Martinez carefully translated a Spanish-speaking mother's concerns about how her family would be affected if the attendance boundaries for Arlington's Patrick Henry Elementary School are changed.
"My daughter has leg problems, and we are close to the school now," she explained during a recent boundary meeting for parents. "A change would be difficult for us since some of us don't drive. It would be a nightmare."
Other Arlington parents, listening intently to Martinez's translation, nodded their heads emphatically at the mention of "nightmare."
Once again, Arlington schools are dealing with the mammoth headache of boundary shifts as 10 south Arlington schools -- and about 3,800 students -- face changes aimed at relieving crowding caused by development and demographic changes. With that, the many volatile issues that come with the painstaking and sensitive task have surfaced.
Transportation is one issue. Many parents, for instance, don't want their children moved to Hoffman-Boston Elementary School -- which has room -- saying that it's too far away.
There is race. A strong division has arisen in the predominantly black community of Nauck, where some parents want Drew Model School, now a magnet school, to become a neighborhood school again. Other parents want Drew to remain a magnet school because it draws students from throughout the county, thus making it more diverse.
There is class. Many parents question why north Arlington schools, whose families tend to have a higher socioeconomic status, cannot absorb more of the crowding.
There are demographics. Some Abingdon Elementary parents, for example, believe the proposed boundary shift would greatly increase the number of poor students attending the south Arlington school.
And those are just a few of the concerns.
"This process inherently puts neighborhoods at each other's throats," said Reid Goldstein, who has two children attending Arlington schools. "It's a turf war."
But it is up to a 44-member Boundary Development and Program Planning Committee, made up of parents and representatives from each school, to hammer out a plan that would take effect next fall.
"People get tunnel vision when they talk about this," said Inta Malis, the committee's chairwoman. "But when you look at what our objectives are, we need to balance a host of other things."
The main objectives are to ensure economic diversity as well as create a space for every child at his or her neighborhood school, Malis said.
But Arlington residents acknowledge that parents' desires often are in conflict.
"People want schools closest to their homes at the same time they want to promote economic diversity," said Jan McMahon, a Campbell Elementary School parent who serves on the committee. "It's a pattern that's difficult to accomplish at the same school."
This is the first major boundary change in 20 years. Schools have become crowded, Malis said, because Arlington schools have smaller class sizes -- 15 to 20 students per class -- which results in the demand for more space. Also, some communities in the county have seen population growth because of development.
Randolph, Barcroft and Carlin Springs elementary schools are crowded. Shifting their students will have a domino affect on several other schools that will have to adjust to the student reassignments in various ways. About 250 students will end up attending different schools.
The committee originally had three proposals -- "green," "pink" and "plaid" -- which sketched out various student population shifts. After several meetings, the pink and plaid proposals have been scrapped. The remaining green proposal will be modified at the request of parents and school representatives. The green plan essentially would move students south and then east. For instance, it would consolidate children from the Nauck neighborhood -- who are currently split among three schools -- to one school, Hoffman-Boston.
Some parents wonder why the enrollment caps at the three magnet schools in south Arlington can't be lifted, thus alleviating some of the crowding in the neighborhood schools.
"It's a valid question," Malis said. But she said that while she understands the concern, the caps must be maintained. "Let's say you're a magnet school and you're open to the entire county. Where do you draw the line? Do you go from 550 to 1,000? That's not possible."
Malis, who said the revised green proposal will address the general crowding problems, knows that not everyone will be happy. The only agreement at the boundary meetings seemed to come when the words "No One Wants To Move" appeared on the slide projector during a presentation.
"Change is not easy under any circumstances, and when your child is involved, it's particularly difficult," Malis said. "But the overall objective is to reduce overcrowding, and that's not possible to do without moving some children."
Once the committee completes the proposal, it will be turned over to School Superintendent Robert G. Smith's office Dec. 19. The Arlington School Board will hold a public hearing on the plan Jan. 16, and a decision is expected Jan. 23.
For more information on the school system's boundary and program development process, visit the system's Web site at www.arlington.k12.va.us/curr_inst/bound_devel/.