Board of Education Votes for More Time
Deb Abraham Spalding
Applause and cheers concluded a meeting on Wednesday, February 27, 2020, at the Frederick County Public School’s (FCPS) Central Office in Frederick, when Frederick County Board of Education (BOE) members listened to the voices of residents in Northern Frederick County by voting to take more time—through December 31, 2020—to explore and weigh all factors involved in the consideration of shutting down Sabillasville Elementary School.
At a January 22, 2020, Board of Education meeting, FCPS staff presented an enrollment update to the Board that sparked concern about low enrollment at the Sabillasville Elementary School. In response, BOE members asked FCPS staff to investigate.
The topic was routed on a seemingly high-speed path, surprising and shaking up the Northern Frederick County school’s staff, students, and residents. The report, that was released the morning after an informal February 20 informational community meeting led by FCPS Superintendent Theresa Alban and BOE President Brad Young at the school, supports the closure of the school and the re-assignment of its students to Thurmont schools.
Dr. Theresa Alban commenced the February 20 informational meeting with a public apology. She explained that she had talked to a reporter with the Frederick News-Post about the report before communicating with the school, staff, or community. People read the news article and thought the decision to close the school had been made without community input. She assured the community that was not the case.
She went on to explain the process of considering shutting down a school under Board Policy 200. She outlined the schedule of opportunity for public comment with meetings planned in March, leading up to a Board vote at the end of March.
Alban said, “We are not looking at this lightly and easily. When you look at the factors that a Board has to consider when a Board is determining whether they need to close or consolidate schools, you’ll see that it’s pretty comprehensive.”
Alban referenced the “Consideration of Sabillasville Elementary School Closing Superintendent’s Report” that would be released the following morning and reviewed the factors being considered in the report: student enrollment trends in relation to state rated capacity; age and/or condition of school buildings; transportation; educational programs; racial composition and levels of poverty of student body; financial considerations; student relocation; impact on community in geographic attendance area for both the proposed closing school and schools impacted by relocating students; and any other factors the Board deems relevant to rendering its decision.
Though this meeting was intended to be informational, Dr. Alban and Young invited questions and promised to answer truthfully and to the best of their knowledge.
Many people in the audience asked questions or raised points of consideration.
Marty Burns, former mayor of Thurmont and current Thurmont Town Commissioner, received a standing ovation from the crowd at the end of his thoughtful and passionate delivery about the potential closure. He said, “We feel [the residents of Northern Frederick County]…that we’re not being represented appropriately…It doesn’t make any sense…when we’re [Thurmont] doing this Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance that we can’t develop when we have over-crowded schools. We chose not to develop Northern Frederick County, and we’re being punished by closing our school. We feel like you don’t care. I’m asking you to reconsider… It shouldn’t happen.”
A couple of hundred people attended this meeting, and several citizens took the opportunity to ask questions or deliver concern or statistics, including George Kuhn, president of the Northwestern Civic Association; SES parent, Colt Black; resident, Jim Bittner; community supporter, David Harman; resident, Mark Harman; resident, Steven Firme; supporter, Walt Ellenburg; a man from Wolfsville who was concerned about his school being next; SES parent Penny Rice, and several others.
The community was invited to the February 26 Board of Education regular meeting to make comment and learn about the report. At this meeting, public comment was heard, including SES Staff representative Barb Doney, who read a letter from the staff; Thurmont Town Commissioner Marty Burns, who asked the Board to, “…reject the report.”; SES third grade student Hope Rice, who read a letter, addressing the wishes of the students; SES PTO representative Drew McGinness; neighbor, Rich Calimer; Military Family Transition Specialist Tashina Adris; and, most notably, Northwestern Civic Association President George Kuhn. Kuhn implored collaboration and said, “We want the BOE to exhaust every option and possibility that is available to you before you consider closing this school. We want you to find out if there’s any way that we can be in complete compliance with the State and Federal regulations. We want you to seek a waiver, both from the State and Federal government. We would like, as a community, to have input into the formation of that waiver. We want to make sure that that waiver gives you the accurate facts.”
It was Board member, Liz Barrett, who inspired a change in the course of the implied shutdown of Sabillasville Elementary when she stated, “I like the idea to use the space and provide a more equitable experience for all the kids in north county…We haven’t had to close a school in many years. I don’t feel comfortable not considering all the options… not promising [a change in the result]…but feeling artificially constrained by this deadline that we set for ourselves.”
She made a motion to keep the school open and explore collaboration. That motion was approved.
Board President Young addressed the time constraint. He made a motion to extend the decision to December 31, 2020, while evaluating all the options. This motion passed unanimously.
The March 11 meeting was canceled.
These votes bought time and allowed for another year of school at SES. These decisions mark the beginning of collaborative research and work by several entities: FCPS, Frederick County Government, Frederick County BOE, SES students, SES staff, Northern Frederick County residents, and other interested parties.
Banner writer James Rada, Jr. was formerly a school staff reporter in Allegheny County and reported the closure of three schools there. About this situation, he said, “You can rush it and be wrong. In most cases, you regret it.”
“Don’t close our school!” is the sentiment SES students express, as parents back them up at a recent gathering organized by parents at the school.
Third-grade SES student, Hope Rice, adjourned the meeting.
Former Thurmont Mayor and current Thurmont Town Commissioner, Marty Burns, spoke passionately about Northern Frederick County on February 26.
Retired FCPS teacher and Northwestern Civic Association president, George Kuhn, spoke at the February 20 community meeting.