Legal Action to Protect MCPS Neighborhood Schools

The Short Summary:  If you care about protecting your neighborhood schools, transparency in local government, and having the Board of Education follow its own policies instead of trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the community, we need your support to continue our lawsuit. 

This is critically important.  We need your support right now.  Not in a week. Not tomorrow. Right now. We have a very strong case, with shocking evidence of blatant wrong-doing and lack of transparency. For example, a former Board Member who has now deleted her Facebook posts showing the highly suspicious dealings involving passing a policy that alters redistricting in a major way. But the truth can only come out if we continue with these lawsuits. We have come too far to stop the fight. If everyone reading this would take 60-90 seconds to donate right now, and share it with your networks, we can keep this fight up.  But we can’t do it without all of your help.  Please take a moment to donate now.  

If you believe “unreasonable redistricting won’t happen to my community” … well, we thought the same thing … until it actually happened.  It already happened in Howard County and recently in Clarksburg. We are trying to hold the Board of Education accountable and make sure that how they handled the Clarksburg redistricting is overturned and the Board of Education does not use the same troubling tactics on the the rest of the County.  To continue our lawsuit, we need an additional $50,000 in donations to continue the fight, which is important to each and every Montgomery County resident. This is not a Clarksburg-only issue.  You can click here
to learn more and read the filings so far: https://www.moconeighbors.com/lawsuits

Why $50,000?  Our appeal has been assigned to an administrative law judge, and this requires a lot of preparation to do things correctly and hold the Board of Education accountable.  We are looking forward to having our day in court, but we need to be well represented and this case is going to take money to fight. We are doing as much as we can, but having the entire county to stand behind us will help hold the Board of Education accountable for the egregious legal and ethical violations that occurred. We must win this appeal to send the message that trying to change significant policies affecting hundreds of thousands of residents -- behind closed doors and without a public comment period -- is not only illegal but simply not acceptable.  What happened was deeply troubling, and the evidence will continue to come out.    

Brief Background:  Many thousands of residents are deeply concerned about the underhanded manner in which the Montgomery County Board of Education quietly passed a major policy (Policy FAA), which dictates school boundaries.  This highly controversial policy -- which was heavily pushed by a group of students and special interest groups that pressured the Board of Education -- forces the Board of Education to demote the importance of geography, stability, and utilization when performing school redistricting.  The driving factor is socioeconomic diversity, even if that means moving children on busses farther away from their nearest school. Despite the PR spin that the Board of Education is focusing on utilization, this policy has made it clear that instead of improving schools themselves, they would prefer to engage in shuffling the socioeconomic deck for optics.  And in order to make the meaningful change to the socioeconomics, their only choice is much more bussing to balance out the statistic

Clarksburg Case:  As a result of numerous violations that occurred with the passage of Policy, lawsuits were filed.  The purpose of this fundraiser is to help raise money to fund the legal cost of the administrative appeal that was submitted on December 26, 2019 by Clarksburg families who are seeking to overturn the Upcounty High School boundary decision involving Seneca Valley/Clarksburg/Northwest High School clusters.  As mentioned above, this case involves Clarksburg but how it’s decided is relevant to THE ENTIRE MONTGOMERY COUNTY.  THAT MEANS YOU.  

The Nitty Gritty Details:

November 27, 2017:  MCPS Board of Education approved a boundary study to explore options to reassign students from Clarksburg HS and Northwest HS to Seneca Valley HS . Also included are Roberto Clemente; Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Kingsview middle schools to evaluate the enrollment patterns and utilizations of these schools. The Seneca Valley revitalization results in 800 open seats to address overcrowding Clarksburg and Northwest

September 24, 2018:  MCPS BOE approved a change to Policy FAA which dictates the criteria for evaluating school reassignments during boundary studies. Prior to the change, the 4 factors: geography, utilization, demographics, and stability were all equally weighted. The change that was passed elevated demographics above the other factors. This was done despite not having a public comment period.  The timeline on how Policy FAA was changed is explained here: https://youtu.be/dkiKyfnNWRE

November 2018:  MCPS BOE amended the study to  include all middle schools in the Clarksburg, Northwest, and Seneca Valley clusters.

March 2019: First round of 8 options were presented to solicit community feedback through meetings and online survey. Cabin Branch and Boyds students from Clarksburg Elementary school service area were not included in these options.

April 2019: Additional options were presented.  Two of the six additional options (Options 11 and 11a impacting Cabin Branch &  Boyds students from Clarksburg Elementary school service area, and Gibbs ES students) were included to further advance the demographic factor: http://gis.mcpsmd.org/boundarystudypdfs/SVHS_FinalReport.pdf - page 6.

June 19/26, 2019:  Community Meetings were held with Seneca Valley PTA. No such meetings were held with Clarksburg High School.

September 19, 2019: Focus Group meetings held with special interest groups, NAACP and Identity, Inc.

October 16, 2019: Superintendent recommended Option 11a, an option that heavily weighted demographics.

October – November 2019: Cabin Branch requested to put Option 9 for consideration but the Board elected not to do this. New options were also submitted to MCPS Planning Staff by Cabin Branch and Gibbs communities but they were dismissed at the November 19th board meeting.

November 26, 2019: Without any debate, MCPS BOE voted to adopt Option 11a.  The scope of the boundary study was to alleviate overcrowding at Clarksburg and Northwest, but the option MCPS BOE adopted did not optimally solve this issue. Instead, it chose options that made little sense.  For example, the results were:

1. Increases bus times for Germantown and Clarksburg students:  High School students in the Cabin Branch community will be going from a 13 min bus ride to a 30 min bus ride; and High School students from Boyds will be going from a 33 minute bus ride to a 41 minute bus ride. 

2. Still leaves Clarksburg overcrowded in 2024-2025 (124% over utilized) despite no concrete plans to relieve overcrowding at Clarksburg in the future. There were other options that favor geography that also leads to a better utilization rate  (109% for Option 9 and 12). 

3. Swaps students between Neelsville Middle School and Rocky Hill Middle School even though there is no overcrowding or Capital Planning  project at either schools.

4. Moves students to Neelsville Middle School, a facility that is falling apart and where only 21% of teachers feel safe. Staff and students have been asking to fix Neelsville since 2015.

5. Removes opportunities for low-income students to attend Seneca Valley which, by 2020, will provide comprehensive and extensive academic and career programs for its students.  Seneca Valley will also house one of four High School-based Wellness Centers in Montgomery County  that provide students with a variety of extra-curricular opportunities, mentoring, case management services, mental health counseling and on-site health screenings and care; all such services FREE for all its students. 

6. Rebalances the FARMS (Free and Reduced Meals Service) rates at Rocky Hill Middle School (from 22% to 38%) and Neelsville Middle School (from 65% to 54%).  The high FARMS rate at Neelsville MS is what MCPS BOE first and foremost focused on. Because of the illegally adopted Policy FAA (passed on on September 24, 2018), which puts more weight on demographics when it comes to boundary reassignments, MCPS chose an option that  focused more on this issue at the expense of the other factors (geography, facility utilization, stability).

7. Was not aligned with community feedback: 3,078 people in the affected HS clusters responded to an MCPS survey to solicit feedback on the study. When considering which factors were most important for the boundary decision: 71.3% indicated geography; 20% said facility utilization; and 7.7% said demographics.  

Purpose of the Appeal
1. The boundary decision was based on FAA guidelines that were illegally adopted by the MCPS BOE on September 24, 2018. More information can be found here: https://youtu.be/dkiKyfnNWRE

2. The MCPS BOE exceeded its authority under Policy FAA by amending the study on November 2018 to include middle schools in the study, which were not slated for capital improvement nor were they over/under utilized.

3. The recommendation (option 11a) adopted was arbitrary, contrary to sound educational policy and discriminatory.

Bottom line: MCPS BOE chose an option that ignored the voices of majority of Clarksburg and Germantown residents; focused more on rebalancing the socioeconomic and racial allocations at two schools by moving students around instead of focusing on ensuring that students have what they need to be successful at their local schools.  Furthermore, MCPS BOE substantially changed the language in the FAA despite no public comment period. This is deeply troubling.  And this is just the beginning if it's not stopped.

It's time politicians listen to ALL of our voices, to consider the needs of our communities and to do what's right for ALL our students.  Not just the motivations of a small group of activists that want to control the county and, as a result, your families and your children.   

If you stand for doing the right thing in the right way -- with transparency and integrity -- please support our cause.  We truly need your support right now. While this case focuses on Clarksburg, if it’s not stopped now, the same approach could easily be applied to communities all over the County.  The only time to act is now.

Thank you very much for your consideration and support. We are deeply appreciative.

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  • Zhiping Gao  
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Organizer and beneficiary

Clarksburg Neighbors 
Organizer
Clarksburg, MD
John Garza 
Beneficiary
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