The Anne Arundel County school board will vote on proposed redistricting plans on Wednesday, a move that would redraw attendance zones at 48 schools and establish them for two new schools in the northern part of the county.
Anne Arundel County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell proposed redistricting this summer, and the school board unanimously moved the process to public hearings. If approved, the plan would take effect next school year and result in a change of schools for approximately 6,400 students at some point in the educational process.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of the vote.
Why are schools being redistricted?
Anne Arundel County school board president Joanna Bache Tobin said the main goal of the redistricting plan is to relieve overcrowded schools and spread students out into schools with empty seats.
North County High School in Glen Burnie, for instance, has 2,519 students enrolled even though its maximum capacity is 2,402. Meanwhile, Chesapeake High School has 1,472 students enrolled in a facility meant to hold more than 2,000, according to Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ Educational Facilities Master Plan.
Thirteen schools are considered overutilized, operating at greater than 100% capacity. The redistricting plan would take all of them to 100% or less.
Tobin said that when kids are in overcrowded schools, they’re not getting the best experience.
“Whether it’s classrooms, long lines in the cafeteria or all sorts of things that just add barriers in some cases for students,” Tobin said. “The overcrowding leads to all sorts of other things.”
Redistricting also makes things more equitable, she said. “You don’t want kids in some portion of the county who have the use of a beautiful, big building and no worries about overcrowding and access, easy access to the smaller classes, and so on, and another group of kids who don’t have that. That’s not that’s right.”
Below-capacity schools also make it harder for the school system to justify building new ones.
“If we’re going to go to the state or the county to ask for money for new facilities, we have to first make sure we are appropriately using all the facilities that we have,” Tobin said.
What are the differences between the plans being considered?
The two options up for a vote Wednesday have only one major difference:
The first allows students entering the 12th grade for the 2024-2025 school year the option to stay at the school where they are currently assigned.
The second provides that option not only to high school seniors, but also juniors who are in leadership positions in their school clubs or in extracurricular activities.
Both plans would require those students to register as legacy students in a portal, and they would have to provide their own transportation.
What has been the community feedback?
At public hearings, many parents were concerned with their children adjusting socially and academically in a new school environment.
Mara Whiteman, a parent at an Oct. 16 hearing, said that junior year of high school is the most significant when applying for college and children will suffer if uprooted during this time.
Tobin said later that when students move to a new school, there will be other students from that current neighborhood moving with them.
Other concerns were related to new traffic patterns, particularly on Mountain Road in Pasadena, if more students come to Chesapeake High School.
How does the redistricting account for new development?
All boundaries account for growth based on planned residential developments, according to the school system website.
When schools are overcrowded, new developments cannot go into the area and many of the areas with overcrowded schools are places that would benefit from affordable housing, according to Tobin.
“If we can rebalance our facilities and make sure that we don’t have as many schools at or above capacity, and we’re filling seats where there are currently empty seats, then we also open up the county for the possibility of building affordable housing, which obviously benefits the entire county, but benefits many of our students and their families as well,” Tobin said.
If adopted, the plan will go into effect next school year, in August 2024. It’ll mark the end of the first phase of the two-part redistricting process.
Redistricting will begin in the southern part of the county in February 2025, with changes taking effect in the 2026-27 school year.