A controversial school boundary plan that would close three Prince George’s County schools in the next two years drew fiery debate at two public hearings in October.
The proposal, coined the “Comprehensive School Boundary Initiative,” aims to address the rising student populations countywide by balancing under-enrolled and over-enrolled schools.
Prince George’s County Public Schools is slated to add more than 9,000 seats by 2027 through new schools and renovations to existing schools. The plan calls for closing three schools and transitioning their student populations into new and renovated schools.
Under the proposed phasing-out process, Pointer Ridge Elementary School and Concord Elementary School are expected to close in 2023, and Rose Valley Elementary School is scheduled to close in 2024.
PGCPS school boundaries manager Rhianna McCarter wrote in an email that the three driving factors for the plan were reducing the extreme ends of school utilization, creating boundaries for nine new and expanded schools and identifying elementary schools for consolidation to modernize the district’s aging building inventory.
However, parents and teachers affected by the boundary changes said the plan would increase already large class sizes in the county and further exacerbate the learning gaps of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the two public hearings on Oct. 20 and Oct. 25, there were more than 80 public comments from Prince George’s County residents.
Resident and McCormick Elementary School staff member Zandra Brown said the plan overlooks the residential development surrounding Pointer Ridge Elementary School. The boundary plan would add 1,547 residential units and more than 3,240 children to the zoning area.
Brown argued consolidating Pointer Ridge would leave insufficient space in the school system for students who live in the new complex and unnecessarily increase the class sizes of other schools in the area, including Northview Elementary School.
Kendra Gatto, a reading specialist and testing coordinator at Pointer Ridge Elementary School, said closing Pointer Ridge would further strain the county’s transportation shortages.
“The three schools to receive our [Pointer Ridge] students are five to seven miles away,” Gatto said. “We are having a bus driver shortage at this time. Why create more transportation needs? All of the current walking students would now need transportation.”
In addition to the class size concerns, Pointer Ridge parents also stressed the emotional trauma another school transition would have on their children off of the heels of the pandemic.
Former PGCPS teacher Marie Hinds-Kamara said closing Pointer Ridge would have irreparable emotional damage on her two children who go to school there.
“If Pointer Ridge is closed, then this will be a fourth transitional process for my two children who attend Pointer Ridge,” Hinds-Kamara said. “For my son … transitions are a trigger for him.”
Hinds-Kamara said her daughter, who is in first grade, often cries after looking at pictures from her previous elementary school. Transitioning to another school would only add to this stress, she said.
McCarter acknowledged the possible emotional consequences of the plan on students, but said the county needs to balance necessary improvements with this reality.
“There is a universal recognition that the social-emotional impact of the pandemic on students has been significant,” she said. “The long-term need to stabilize and modernize buildings across the district requires difficult decisions in the near-term that are being carefully considered.”
McCarter said the team will work toward a common ground with both parents and teachers.
“We truly want to understand how families feel they may be impacted,” she said. We are striving to strike the right balance of difficult decisions in the near-term with the long-term educational and financial goals of the system.”
The Prince George’s County Board of Education is slated to vote on the boundary proposal Nov. 10.