Friday •  October 22, 2021

Proposed Revisions to HCPSS Policy 6010 – School Attendance Areas (Redistricting): The Good, the Bad and the Unaddressed 

 

HCPSS school redistricting is a process that affects thousands of families across Howard County every 2-5 years.  The policy that governs this redistricting process, HCPSS Policy 6010, is currently under review by the Board of Education and is due for significant modifications.  The draft revised Policy 6010 proposed by Superintendent Martirano can be found here.  A summary presentation given at the October 5, 2021 HCPSS Board of Education meeting can be found here.

 

A prior HoCo Watchdogs post discussed recommended modifications to Policy 6010 that would maximize its effectiveness & efficiency and constructively limit the scope of redistricting.  Another prior post discussed concerning recommendations that the Policy 6010 HCPSS public committee had recommended to Superintendent Martirano in January 2021.

 

Included below is a summary of improvements, new problems and unaddressed issues that exist in the proposed new official draft Policy 6010 that the HCPSS Board of Education is considering for approval.

 

If you disagree with any of the proposed changes to this policy or feel that further modifications should be included, you are strongly encouraged to sign up to publicly testify at the HCPSS Board of Education meeting on November 2 at 7:00 PM. 

You may also email the Board of Education your thoughts on these changes and your recommended revisions by contacting them at boe@hcpss.org.

 

Summary

 

Improvements

  • Formally establishes in Policy 6010 that the Board may consider exemptions for students who have been redistricted within the last 5 years, students with IEP or 504 plans, and students with one or more parents as active duty military personnel.

 

  • Changes the redistricting process to allow for fresh public testimony after every iteration of polygon moves made to the redistricting plan throughout the process. HCPSS families who get redistricted late in the process will be able to publicly share their concerns with the Board and perhaps influence the Board to make further revisions.

 

New Problems

  • Language is added that institutionalizes “balancing measurable socioeconomic factors across schools” as a formal goal of redistricting.

 

  • Language is removed that states that the Area Attendance Committee (AAC) meetings are subject to the Maryland Open Meetings Act (OMA). No language included to make sure meetings are open to the public or recorded for public record.

 

  • Language is included that states that HCPSS will only release summary notes of AAC meetings instead of full recordings and/or transcripts.

 

  • Target utilization range is established as 90-110% and is set as a condition that triggers the Board to consider attendance area adjustments.  The Board will now need to consider redistricting *every year* for the foreseeable future, unless residential development dramatically decreases or new schools magically appear.

 

Existing Problems Left Unaddressed

  • No language is added to firmly establish that “balancing capacity utilization across all schools” is the primary goal of redistricting.

 

  • “Demographic Characteristics of Student Population” (including race/ethnicity, academic performance & test scores, gender, sexual orientation/identity & religion) is still included as a primary/overarching factor for redistricting.

 

  • No language is added to ensure that students in need of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan who have not yet been approved for such a plan will be granted exemption from redistricting.  Currently, only students with IEPs & 504 plans already established at the time of that the Board votes to approve a redistricting plan.  Students who receive an IEP or 504 plan during that same academic year but after the redistricting vote are typically excluded from the right to remain at their current school.

 

Detailed Discussion

 

Improvements

Changes to Section 3. C. 7.

 

This draft policy formally adds the consideration of exemptions from redistricting for

1. “Students who have been reassigned once already at their school level or once within the last five years provided that they remained registered at the same address during that time.”

2. “Students who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan as of the date of the Board’s approval of any attendance area changes.”, and

3. “Students who have at least one parent who is currently active duty military personnel. “

 

While these considerations have always been available, as stated in section K of HCPSS Policy 9000, it is encouraging to see this language added to the official HCPSS redistricting Policy 6010 document.  These are all positive exemptions to officially state in the Policy and encourage the Board to consider.

 Changes to Section 3. C. 9. c.

 

The redistricting process has been significantly changed to allow for follow-up iterations of public testimony after initial hearings are held for the Superintendent’s initial proposed redistricting plan.

 

If the Board makes changes to the plan, HCPSS families who are affected by these changes will be able to provide fresh public testimony later on in the process. This will be possible for every iteration of changes made to the redistricting plan throughout the process.

 

This is a positive change that will grant families who get redistricted at any stage, particularly those affected late in the process, the ability to share their concerns with the Board and perhaps influence the Board to make revisions to address their concerns.

New Problems

-Proposed change to III. B. 3. b. (page 3) , changing “The socioeconomic composition of the school population as measured by participation in the federal FARMS program.”
to

“Socioeconomic composition of each school’s student population using applicable socioeconomic data, with the goal of balancing measurable socioeconomic factors across schools”

 

 

Balancing measurable socioeconomic factors across schools is an impossible goal to accurately gauge and maintain year-over-year, and significantly overcomplicates the redistricting process.

 

Including this as a formal goal of redistricting will lead to thousands more students moved than would otherwise be necessary to re-balance capacity utilization among all schools. Superintendent Martirano’s & Jen Mallo’s 2019 redistricting plans demonstrated this.

 

The original language for this section only included socioeconomic factors as a consideration under reasonable conditions for specific moves. There is a big difference between considering socioeconomic factors for select specific moves, when reasonable, versus establishing the balancing of socioeconomic factors across all schools as a plan-wide goal.

 

The language explicitly stating that “balancing measurable socioeconomic factors across schools” is a formal goal of redistricting should be removed.

The term “Free-and-Reduced-Meal (FARM)” as a socioeconomic data point is removed from this new draft Policy 6010 entirely, and replaced with “applicable socioeconomic data”.

 

No clear language is included regarding how HCPSS will measure this socioeconomic data and include it as a factor.

 

Will they examine average income per zip code/polygon?

Average home price of each polygon?

Tax records of HCPSS families (half joking)?

 

This seems like an extremely subjective factor that will be impossible to accurately & fairly gauge and maintain from year-to-year.

-Proposed change to IV. D (page 7)

 

“The Superintendent/designee will take summary notes of the AAC meeting(s) and make these summary notes available to the public”

 

These revisions remove the language that “AAC meeting(s) are subject to the Maryland Open Meetings Act (OMA).”

 

This revision is a concerning step backwards in transparency and accountability.  The original language regarding Area Attendance Committee (AAC) meetings being subject to the Maryland OMA should be restored. This includes where the term “OMA” is crossed out on pages 7, 11, and 14.

 

Additionally, the limitation to only release summary notes to the public is unnecessarily restrictive. AAC meetings should be public and should be recorded, with recordings publicly accessible.

 

Important nuances to discussions and dissenting opinions of individual committee members are oftentimes sanitized and left out of summary notes.

 

Full recordings and/or transcripts provide the public with important insight into the decision-making process and should not be restricted by Policy 6010 from being recorded, saved & publicly released.

Proposed change to III. A. 3. (page 2): “School attendance area projections are outside the target utilization range of 90-110% and available capacity exists.”

 

90-110% is a sensible target utilization range to aim for in the future, if school system & county government leaders ever decide to seriously coordinate planning of new school infrastructure & sustainably restrained & well-paced new residential development.

 

However, considering that Howard County has failed to responsibly balance building new schools where new developments have been approved for at least the past few decades, there now exists school capacity imbalances all across the county that are outside of this 90-100% range.

 

As it stands right now, 16 (out of 42) elementary schools, 4 (out of 20) middle schools and 4 (out of 12) high schools are outside this target utilization range — even after the massive redistricting that took place in 2019.

 

 

With this range as a condition that must trigger the Board to consider attendance area adjustments, the Board will now need to consider redistricting *every year* for the foreseeable future, unless residential development dramatically decreases or new schools magically appear.

 

With this in mind, a more realistic range such as 85-115% or 80-120% would be more responsible to serve as an automatic triggering condition for the Board to need to consider redistricting.

Existing Problems Left Unaddressed

No language is added to firmly establish that “balancing capacity utilization across all schools” is the primary goal of redistricting.

 

Language should be added to Policy 6010 that sets the prioritization order of all redistricting considerations that are defined in Section “III.B.”. In the current version of the Policy, the factors are listed in the following order: 1. Facility Utilization 2. Community Stability 3. Demographic Characteristics of Student Population. There is no clear language on whether the numbered order indicates priority.

 

A prioritized order needs to be firmed up as clearly as possible. “Facility Utilization” (minimization of overcrowding) must be the primary goal driving every redistricting move. Moves should rarely ever occur between two schools if neither of the schools are over-capacity.

 

When polygon moves are required to re-balance capacity among certain schools to alleviate severe overcrowding, then community stability & distance from a polygon to its current school & proposed new school should be the next clear prioritization.

 

Wording should be added to Policy 6010 that emphasizes that “whenever possible, polygons that must be redistricted to re-balance capacity should be moved to their next closest school (by driving distance….not as the crow flies)”, and “polygons should be moved to keep contiguous communities/neighborhoods together (no street-splitting)“.

 

Community stability should not just be a consideration that is equal to other factors such as student demographics — it should be set as the clear priority for every polygon move that is require to alleviate overcrowding.

– Section B. 3. “Demographic Characteristics of Student Population” should either be removed altogether or language should be added that emphasizes that demographic characteristics should only be considered for individual redistricting moves where there are two or more schools capable of receiving students from a particular polygon (for the primary goal of balancing capacity utilization) that are similar in driving/walking distance to the polygon but have differing student demographics. Specific examples of these scenarios can be found in this previous post.

 

 

As is, including “Demographic Characteristics of Student Population” as a primary/overarching factor for redistricting overcomplicates the process and leaves the door open for Board members and the Superintendent to create far more disruptive and larger-scale redistricting plans than would otherwise be necessary to balance capacity utilization, all for the sake of attempting to balance student population characteristics that are impossible to consistently gauge or maintain year-to-year, and which redistricting should not be used to balance. These include:

 

1. “Race/ethnicity, gender, gender identity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, language, culture, religion/beliefs, mental and physical ability, disability, age, and national origin” (included in the HCPSS definition of “diversity”)

 

2. “Academic performance of students in both the sending and receiving schools as measured by current standardized testing results”

 

3. “The level of English learners as measured by enrollment in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program”

 

Where is the line drawn?

 

Will the number of suspensions per school eventually be included as a factor?

 

How about BMI data, when HCPSS eventually partners with the Horizon Foundation to measure this, as they proposed to do earlier this year?

 

How will these characteristics & standards be consistently & impartially applied across all schools?

 

Will redistricting moves really be made based on race/ethnicity, academic performance & test scores, gender, sexual orientation/identity & religion?

 

How will those characteristics be accurately measured per polygon and how will these be maintained from year-to-year?

No language or modified timeline is added to ensure that students in need of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan who have not yet been approved for such a plan will be granted exemption from redistricting.

 

The application process for a student to receive an IEP or 504 plan is so long that even if a family applies during the first week of school, the plan almost certainly will not be finalized before the Board votes to approve a redistricting plan.

 

The  goal of this redistricting exemption is to provide stability for students who are in need of such extra supports.  However, with the current cutoff date set as the day that the Board votes to approve a redistricting plan, this exemption only benefits students who received a plan in previous academic school years and does not help students who are in immediate need and attempting to receive extra supports.

 

Language should be added to Policy 6010 that allows students who receive an IEP/504 plan at any point during the academic year that a particular redistricting plan is approved to be exempt from redistricting and be allowed to remain at their current school.

The above proposed changes and omissions will significantly impact all HCPSS families for the foreseeable future. If you disagree with any of the proposed changes to Policy 6010, sign up to publicly testify at the HCPSS Board of Education meeting on November 2 at 7:00 PM.

You may also email the Board of Education your thoughts on these changes by contacting them at boe@hcpss.org

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