School Board Members Refute ‘Segregation’ Accusations in Boundary Debate

Heated debate, shouting and a few tears were on display at the dais of the Loudoun County School Board on Monday night.

Board members took time to refute accusations from a newly created activist group that they plan to make school attendance assignments to Leesburg elementary students based on students’ race and class. Monday’s work session was the board’s first public forum since the group calling itself Educate Don’t Segregate formed a week and a half ago.

Educate Don’t Segregate, largely made up of families in Exeter and other central Leesburg neighborhoods, is protesting one of the board’s proposed attendance zone maps that would return about 700 students to schools closer to their homes. But the activist group has characterized the move as segregation because it would concentrate many of the town’s poor students and those still learning English at two schools, Leesburg and Frederick Douglass elementary schools.

The board is scheduled to adopt an attendance map Tuesday.

The attendance lines must be redrawn to reduce overcrowding at Evergreen Mill Elementary. But the board, and many Leesburg residents, are split over whether to reassign just a few hundred students to address that problem or make major changes, and reassign as many as 2,000 students, to reverse what some see as an unfair distribution of students in apartments and town homes near Plaza Street. The current attendance map, adopted in 1997, has students in that neighborhood attending five different schools, and being bussed past two or three closer schools.

Debbie Rose (Algonkian), Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin), Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and others said they spent much of their spring break last week “debunking rumors” spread by the Educate Don’t Segregate group.

“I want to let people know the folks throwing out this argument that they care about diversity have other intentions,” Rose said. “What you really care about is that you don’t move. And what you really care about is your child doesn’t have over 50 percent English language learners and kids qualifying for free and reduced lunch in your child’s schools.”

The proposal the activist group opposes, known as Plan 12, would also reassign many in the Exeter subdivision from Leesburg Elementary to Frances Hazel Reid Elementary. They have voiced their support for a plan drafted by board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg), known as Plan 6, which would reassign just enough students to reduce Evergreen Mill’s overcrowding and leave most of the boundaries in central Leesburg unchanged.

Both Rose and Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) read an email from a parent who, speaking against Plan 12, said he did not want Leesburg to turn into Sterling Park, which has schools made up of more than 70 percent of low-income and non-English speaking students. “Do you want MS-13, a notorious gang, to be roaming the streets of Leesburg preying on our kids?” the email read.

Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) listened with his face in his hands.

Sheridan responded, “This is inaccurate information. I live in Sterling Park. It is not a dangerous community.” She also noted that the email was not sent to her but forwarded from another board member, adding, “If you feel this way, have the guts to say it to my face.”

Hornberger and Rose pointed to elementary schools in Sterling Park that have a high percentage of English language learners and made big academic improvements in recent years. They said if Plan 12 is adopted, the Leesburg schools could mimic the techniques that have proved successful there.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to make sure we are meeting the needs of our kids, not worrying about housing values or talk of stigmatizing certain schools,” Hornberger said. He also took issue with the term segregation to describe Plan 12, drawn up by him and Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin). “It’s segregation to say, if you live in the Plaza Street area, you can’t attend a school closest to you like every other kid in the county,” he said. “We have to get beyond that rhetoric because it’s not helpful.”

Board member Joy Maloney (Broad Run), who shares Marshall’s support for Plan 6, countered some of her colleagues’ comments, and accused them of using the meeting to “grandstand” as opposed to glean helpful information from the staff ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

She noted that Loudoun County was one of the last jurisdictions in the nation to desegregate its schools. “So when we talk about Leesburg citizens not being genuine when they’re talking about desegregation, we have to realize that they have a perspective that maybe we don’t have,” she said.

Jeff Morse (Dulles) voiced his support for maintaining the current model of evenly distributing academically at-risk students, for now. He noted that the school system integrates special education students in general education classrooms, and dispersing English language learners throughout the town’s schools is a similar model. He also said he’d prefer to wait a couple of years to see if the teaching model used in Sterling schools continues to be successful, and then have a larger discussion on how best to improve the learning environment for Leesburg students.

“There may be a solution out there that doesn’t require the moving of 1,900 children,” he said.

Board members on both sides agreed that important issues surfaced during Leesburg’s contentious boundary process over the past several weeks. Sheridan suggested that the board form an equity committee after an attendance map is adopted to continue the discussion about how to provide every student the best education, no matter their socioeconomic status.

“The best thing that has come out of what I’m calling the Plan 12 saga is this honest and difficult conversation that we have to have,” she said. “We need to develop policies that are threats of inequity and keep this conversation going.”

The board is scheduled to adopt a map at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. See each of the proposed boundary plans here.

A rally organized by members of the Loudoun chapter of NAACP is planned before the meeting at 5 p.m. in front of the Loudoun school administration building, at 21000 Education Court in Ashburn.

[See more on the boundary process: “Debate Over Race and Class Surface in School Boardroom.”]

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3 thoughts on “School Board Members Refute ‘Segregation’ Accusations in Boundary Debate

  • 2016-03-29 at 1:43 am

    Let’s get some facts straight:

    1. Sterling is much more dangerous than other parts of Loudoun. Look at this map from Mar-2015 to Mar-2016 of serious crimes reported. It is much more dense than other parts of Loudoun. Nobody wants crime to go up. But as I remarked in 2009 when the murder in Lansdowne occurred, the biggest travesty is for these kids in Sterling who have nowhere to hide. The sheriff is doing admirable work, but Rose certainly doesn’t want her kids who attend a 5% FRL school to be integrated with Sterling. And unlike some of these pro-segregation neighborhoods, Lansdowne has section 8 housing built into its townhouse units. Lansdowne was also routed past 3 other closer schools, 5 miles down Rt 7, to help mitigate FRL rates in Weller. Hornberger, Rose and Turgeon voted for that non-community school plan back in 2012 but will openly lie about no other region of Loudoun busing kids for diversity. We all would love a world of 0% FRL. That’s fantasy. Many of us would like to evenly distribute kids of various SES backgrounds to make it fair for kids from both sides of the track. Bigoted folks like Rose, DeKenipp, Turgeon and Hornberger want to quarantine them in Title 1 schools.

    2. Not all Sterling schools have had success. Sterling’s Forest Grove and Sterling elementary had among the lowest growth scores for its students for years running. Leesburg’s Evergreen Mill and Frederick Douglass have some of the highest growth scores of any school in the county at FRL rates of 30%+. For Hornberger/Rose/Turgeon to claim that the data supports their position when they STILL refuse to release SGP data for 2015 and sued to block their release last year is beyond hypocrisy.

    3. Hornberger shows his utter ignorance once again. He might claim it’s “discrimination” to not allow some kids to attend neighborhood schools while allowing other kids to do so. But it’s not “segregation” – setting people apart from other people. Has he heard of a dictionary? Oh, that’s right, he opposes Common Core and higher standards so I guess we must hold Hornberger to those of Point Loma Community College, eh?

    4. Section 8 housing has been one of the bigger successes in the “war on poverty” which otherwise has been a failure. While much of the handouts are temporary success at best, Section 8 housing (place small numbers of lower cost housing units in between more affluent residences) has shown lasting impacts with almost no downside to the more affluent communities in which they reside. That is essentially the same thing these integrated schools provide. As long as the %’s are manageable, the FRL kids learn the habits and knowledge of their more affluent friends. Does that mean all FRL kids are ignorant? No. But FRL kids are much less likely to understand financial investing, how to pursue a college degree, how to even apply for college, or to enjoy reading (not as many books in the home). Exposing them to another world that their parents may not be able to provide does wonders. And I’m talking about the native born FRL kids of all races who benefit. This is why we don’t want to segregate those who need education’s equalizing effects the most. When my friends and I would wait around to play our basketball game growing up, I would help many of them with their homework. They had nobody at home who could explain the concepts to them. Many of their friends would make fun of them if they acted smart. But by mixing in all SES groups and races, we each learned from the other. I learned the grit it takes to have everything stacked against you but to refuse to let those circumstances define your life. I still admire many of those friends above all others I have met. And they were exposed to new perspectives, including the fact that the world is much larger than the only 3 counties their extended families had ever known.

    5. Yes, it is appropriate to talk about housing prices and the education of non-FRL kids in these Title 1 homes. Plan 12 would transfer $M’s of wealth from the middle class/poor to the affluent. The school board would, with a single vote, play Robin Hood in reverse. Housing prices will be affected. The prices of the homes in Leesburg will fall, be they expensive homes or small flats. The prices in the surrounding suburbs will rise. How is that not a relevant part of this rezoning? What’s more, new residents will be less likely to move into the Title 1 zoned areas. The composition of those neighborhoods will change. A few decades ago, Sterling and Herndon were middle class neighborhoods. Now, they have morphed into low income housing. This doesn’t have to happen to Leesburg. But a vote for Plan 12 will begin the march down that path.

    The biggest thing the citizens of Loudoun learned is that most board members are not acting in good faith. They lie, suppress data, and have no qualms against calling their political opponents every name in the book. One cannot turn the other cheek and hope to have a fair outcome. The only way to deal with this board is through the organization of political power and seeking remedies through the court. I’m glad many have opened their eyes during this process. It should serve us well going forward.

  • 2016-03-29 at 7:48 am

    First of all, folks are afraid to say it to your face in fear of retribution. The School Board is also the arbitrator of school justice and if the kid of a problem maker comes before them, guess what happens.

    Second, let us not forget why this is happening. The School Board just HAD to artificially create this crisis to relieve poor Ashburn who is so tired of boundary changes. Sycolin Creek paid that price then and Leesburg does now. All while the non-Ashburn based School Board members let them do it. The then Catoctin SB member even voted for it herself because, and these are her words, it what every other member wants. Hmmmm.

    Loudoun deserves better than this thuggery we are seeing. When will we as voters get decent candidates with relevant background and not power hungry politicos who do not listen to the voters? Plan 12 was a done deal the moment it came out. One has to wonder how this keeps happening without it being discussed in public?

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