Chaotic classrooms, cramped cafeterias and multiple assemblies to accommodate droves of students could become a thing of the past for Hampton Elementary School.

Parents spent years advocating for change for their beloved but overcrowded Timonium school. Their calls for help led to what Baltimore County school officials have called their largest-ever redistricting process. Now, the chapter has finally come to a close after the school board approved a new map Tuesday that reroutes dozens of kids to schools with more space to spare.

It’s a big win for the Hampton parents, though some are reluctant to celebrate. It means their kids will be separated from best friends and great teachers. And because this is the second time in four years Hampton’s boundaries were redrawn, not everyone is confident the relief from overcrowding will be permanent.

In Baltimore County, boundary studies happen all the time. It’s a process that redraws school attendance boundary lines to accommodate a newly built school or relieve overcrowding. There have been five in the last two years, and the central area study that included Hampton is one of two that have wrapped up this month. It included 19 schools and will move 388 kids to new buildings.

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“Public schools are the glue of the community, especially elementary schools,” said Robin Campbell, a Hampton parent. “When you start moving them around, especially frequently, that just disrupts so much of the community, and it shouldn’t happen.”

In 2020, Pleasant Plains Elementary School in Towson was over capacity by 135 students. Hampton, with 580 students at the time, was tapped to help. Shortly after the board approved the new attendance boundaries, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and kids were sent home. Hampton students didn’t feel the impact of the changes until everyone returned full-time in 2022, said Julie Culotta, the school’s PTA president.

She said the enrollment numbers were exploding by then. The school grew from 571 students in 2019 to 687 in 2022, state data shows. The school was only meant to hold 670 at the time.

Hampton Elementary School PTA President Julie Culotta with her children (left to right) Grace (5), Cooper (10), and Camden (7). (Eric Thompson/for the Baltimore Banner)

Magali Christopher, the mother of a Hampton kindergartener and third grader, said some classes had to have their physical education class in homeroom because there wasn’t enough space in the gym. Since some of the staggered lunch shifts started as early as 11 a.m., her daughter’s teacher had to implement a snack time in the late afternoon.

Culotta remembers staff questioning how to handle all the kids and a fear of having to use multiple trailers again like they did around a decade ago.

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Jessie Jaeger, a parent and paraeducator at the school, said parents didn’t feel heard by the school board at the time. They tried warning of incoming housing developments that could impact the numbers. Now, she said, “we are jam-packed like sardines in a can again.”

It can make classroom management difficult, she said. A class of 27 kids with three students who misbehave can still turn into chaos. But it’s recess and lunchtime that are the hardest parts. The cafeteria can become “so stimulating and loud.” Some kids, according to Jaeger, come to lunch wearing noise canceling headphones because of it.

Assemblies have to happen two or three times, she said, so each student has a chance to see it. Not all the kids can fit in the gym to watch them at once. There aren’t enough bathrooms, the hallway during dismissal becomes cramped, and the parking lot can turn chaotic during drop-off and dismissal.

Something had to be done. At the start of 2023, parents and staff started campaigning for help. They contacted County Council members and regularly spoke at school board meetings. School officials paid attention and, according to Culotta, offered four trailers and a boundary study in May.

Pleasant Plains and Cromwell Valley were picked to help relieve Hampton. However, the solutions presented didn’t solve the problem, and the study was never completed. Culotta said other central area schools had space for more kids. They could help Hampton.

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In November 2023, the school system announced the central area elementary school boundary study that involved 19 schools in a region that extends from Towson to Jacksonville, making it the largest study the school system has done.

Hampton was one of the four overcrowded schools the 15 other schools were meant to help. This year it has 734 students, according to Sept. 30 enrollment numbers, though the building was made for 662 students. That puts the school at 111% of its capacity — slightly below what the district considers overcrowded, but still too crowded for comfort.

Between September and January, a committee of 78 parents, teachers and principals analyzed, edited and voted on multiple attendance maps. Christopher was one of the committee members and an advocate for the map that was ultimately chosen. There wasn’t Capitol Hill-level lobbying going on, she said, but some members had to be convinced to support it.

“I wasn’t really trying to strong-arm anybody,” said Christopher. “I wanted the map to help the most people as possible.”

The map that was approved Tuesday night will drop Hampton to 88% of its capacity. Some schools are still over 100%. School officials said at a Feb. 27 board meeting that representatives for those schools did not want their boundaries changed.

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Hampton Elementary School will be at 88% of capacity when the new attendance boundaries go into effect. (Eric Thompson/for the Baltimore Banner)

Culotta says she has mixed emotions about the finality of it all. There’s relief, but “we’re losing a lot of kids our kids were friends with.” She’s also thinking about residential projects coming up, like Lutherville Station, a mostly vacant shopping complex that a developer aims to convert into a mixed-use property with housing, retail and public green space.

“And then what’s the plan?” she asked. “We’re going to do this again?

That’s what Jaeger thinks. The frequency of boundary studies made her assume they’d be back in the same situation three or four years down the road. She pointed the finger at the county government for not implementing recommendations made by a task force created to address this issue.

The Adequate Public Facility Ordinance task force was created in 2020 to improve the law that controls growth and crowding in the county. The task force’s list of recommendations includes lowering what the county considers to be an overcrowded school from 115% capacity to 110%.

Some parents said they think the county government is not enforcing requirements for home developers to pay impact fees that would go toward school expansion construction costs.

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“The county government now needs to do their part or else this accomplishment for BCPS will be for nothing,” said Robin Campbell, a Hampton parent.

When Baltimore County approved its impact fee in 2019, the estimate was it would raise $5.7 million a year. But exemptions within the law mean the county has only collected about $14,000 in the past two budget years.

County Council Chair Izzy Patoka did not return a request for comment.

School board Chair Tiara Booker-Dwyer wouldn’t say what’s been done in collaboration with the county government but did say both the board and county government officials do work in partnership.

“We are all on the same page,” she said. “We all understand the need to invest in our schools.”

Campbell called the map approval a “milestone” and said he’s hopeful that this response to parents can restore confidence in the school system. But unless the county government takes action, “this opportunity for stability and trust building could be lost.”

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