The Fairfax County School Board is using the children of the West Springfield community as pawns in a high-stakes chess game, and a dedicated and growing group of concerned residents is determined to put a stop to it.
In January, the board voted, without public notice or input, to conduct a study of the attendance boundaries of West Springfield High School, Lee High School and Lake Braddock Secondary School beginning this fall. The board's actions coincided with an equally hasty decision to begin sending ninth-grade students from the South Hunt Valley section of West Springfield to West Springfield High School beginning in the fall. Those students would otherwise attend Lee High School.
The board ordered the boundary study ostensibly to determine whether the influx of South Hunt Valley students would overcrowd West Springfield High School in coming years.
The real effect of the board's action will be to send elementary and middle school students who currently live inside the West Springfield High School attendance area into the Lake Braddock attendance area -- before the impact of the South Hunt Valley students can be assessed.
The board's view: In with the new, out with (some of) the old.
Incensed by the board's arbitrary and hasty actions, the West Springfield community has repeatedly asked board members to postpone the boundary study until the impact of the South Hunt Valley students on West Springfield High's resources can be assessed adequately and accurately.
Those members who have responded to the request to postpone the study have done so with a resounding "no." Their rationale? They don't want to appear inconsistent.
At a town hall-type meeting May 23 with more than 500 West Springfield community members, School Board Chairman Phillip A. Niedzielski-Eichner and other members made it clear that they consider the matter closed.
"How many times do I have to say 'no'?" Niedzielski-Eichner asked in response to community members' repeated requests that the boundary study be reconsidered.
Community frustration with the board's lack of responsiveness and its inability to provide a logical, trustworthy rationale based on facts led to the formation of the West Springfield Pyramid Solutions Coalition.
The coalition, consisting of several hundred members, has dedicated itself to preserving the current West Springfield High School attendance area and preventing the board from tearing apart neighborhoods by redistricting current elementary school students into high schools different from those their older siblings attend.
Now that Niedzielski-Eichner and board members have shown in front of hundreds of parents, taxpayers and voters how unwilling they are to reexamine one of their hallowed decisions, the WSPSC has grown stronger and more energized than ever.
The coalition is willing -- even eager -- to consider other solutions to this dilemma. But the board must first indicate that it is willing to reconsider its decision.
A similar boundary study and redistricting may soon play out in the Westfield, South Lakes, Centreville and Chantilly high school areas, where building continues, schools are overcrowded and communities are concerned about loss of their neighborhood schools.
Our coalition will be knocking on doors, writing letters, raising money and using all means necessary to bring this ill-conceived decision to the attention of all county residents until the board answers our questions, looks at the facts, postpones this boundary study and shows that our children are not sacrificial pawns to be shuffled off the board in this political chess match.
The county School Board is reviewing attendance boundaries in various areas, including Springfield and Burke. In this column, Kevin Brown and Thomas Bognanno, co-chairmen of the West Springfield Pyramid Solutions Coalition, a grass-roots group of residents, express their opposition to a study by the board of the boundaries.