Like it or not, more than 3,000 Fairfax County children will be shuffled to a different elementary school next fall in an effort to ease crowding.
The county School Board voted unanimously this week to adopt new attendance boundaries, despite fielding hundreds of phone calls, e-mails and letters protesting the decision. Such changes are generally unpopular with affected families, who don't want trailer classrooms or their children to endure long bus rides or break friendships made in kindergarten.
"The geography of all the schools isn't perfect," said board member Jane K. Strauss (Dranesville), who was targeted by many parents. "In a public school system where we grow, change has to come. . . . I know not all of you are happy."
Public meetings were held the last few months to field concerns and questions. Thus parents were not allowed to speak on the issue at the meeting Monday night. Still, dozens filled the auditorium of Jackson Middle School in Falls Church and tried to convey sentiment with occasional applause, groans and sighs. Most walked out after the vote looking ruffled.
"Our concern is the way the procedure works," said Debbie Volpicelli, a mother of four. "At this point, we are going to the third closest school when there's two schools closer."
Her daughter Allison, a fifth-grader, will be allowed to stay at Forestville Elementary next year to finish the sixth grade. But Volpicelli's children in third grade and kindergarten will have to take a 9.5-mile bus route to a school that is 4.9 miles away.
The boundaries also create an island of children in the Hagel Circle section of Lorton who will be bused to Halley Elementary School, while the communities around them will attend the new Lorton Station school. Gary Chevalier, director of facilities planning, said many children in Hagel Circle receive free or reduced lunches and need special programs for which the new school is not equipped.
"One of the concerns folks heard through the public hearing process was that we were moving kids needing resources into Lorton Station but not moving the resources with them," Chevalier said.
About 3,100 students in all are affected, he said. The county has built four elementary schools: Andrew Chapel, Island Creek, Lorton Station and Northeast Centreville. Centers for gifted and talented students are being created at Andrew Chapel, Clearview, Lorton Station, Mosby Woods, Oak Hill and Riverside elementary schools.
In a request to School Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech, Strauss asked him to promise that no bus run would be longer than 45 minutes. He agreed.
On Tuesday morning, the Volpicellis and their neighbors armed themselves with stopwatches and video cameras to test the commute their children will make: 59 minutes.
"They have yet to show us how they can accomplish it," Volpicelli said.
For a list of boundary changes, go to www.fcps.k12.va.us/news/boundary.htm.