James Rada Jr.
The Frederick County Board of Education gave an impactful reprieve at the end of March when it revoked its former end-of-November (2020) vote to close the Sabillasville Elementary School (SES). This was in response to an appeal submitted by the Sabillasville Parent Teacher Organization.
“They needed to do that because of the lack of notice of a public meeting when they voted,” said Alisha Yocum, president of the Sabillasville Elementary Parent Teacher Organization. “They didn’t follow COMAR or their own procedures.”
After listening to comment from approximately ten concerned citizens at an April 14, 2021, hearing, the board put the decision to vote again on April 21, and this time, decreed a trifecta win in favor of the students, community, and Frederick County Public Schools System. The first win is the most obvious, SES will remain open through the 2021-2022 school year.
The second win allows that the school will serve as an open-enrollment school. Therefore, any student from another school, or another over-capacity school in the county, may attend Sabillasville Elementary for the 2021-2022 school year.
The final win gives the board and the Sabillasville Elementary community a year to get a new plan for the school in place. A three-member committee from the board will work with the citizens of Sabillasville to investigate alternatives to closing the school. This includes turning it into a charter school, which is what the residents of the town have been working toward. The board is also looking at what maintenance and improvements the school needs.
Yocum is a member of a group of Sabillasville residents who submitted a charter application to the board to change Sabillasville Elementary into a charter school, called the Sabillasville Environmental School. It would be a K-8 school, with roughly 23 students per grade. It would begin as a K-6 school and add grades 7 and 8 in years two and three.
“We want to offer a classical curriculum, similar to what the Frederick Classical Charter School offers, with a focus on the environment,” Yocum told the Banner earlier this year. “Given where we are located, we want to reconnect students with nature and agriculture.”
The board of education staff provided feedback on the application. It is now being revised and will be resubmitted again.
“Sabillasville is unique, given its geographic location and importance in the community,” said Board member Liz Barrett, who proposed the motion for vote. “I also think that our board, because of COVID and other reasons, had failures with communication, with application of policy, and with our procedures in dealing with Sabillasville, and I don’t think that this is an issue where we should have any room for error or perception of error in our community.”
With the vote to keep the school open, the board will have to figure out how to best staff the school.
Yocum and her group understand the reprieve is temporary, and they know the school can’t stay open as is. They have been working toward the charter school but ran into a time problem. Even if the charter had been approved, the new school wouldn’t be ready to operate until August 2022. This means the board would have had to close Sabillasville Elementary, send students to Thurmont and Emmitsburg schools for a year, and then return them to Sabillasville the following year.
The additional year gives the Sabillasville group time as the charter works its way through the approval process.
Strong community support delayed the decision to close the school in the past, and it will be a factor in pushing the charter application through the process until it is approved.
“We will keep fighting as long as we have to,” said Yocum.
Cover Photo by Kelsey Norris
Cover Photo: Abbey Sparkman, McKinley Norris, and Emma Sparkman are shown outside the Frederick County Public Schools building in Frederick while waiting at a public hearing about their school.
Photo by Deb Abraham Spalding
Sabillasville Elementary School supporters stand outside the FCPS public hearing while waiting to speak in support of the school remaining open on April 14.