A slew of Bowie residents and local officials forcefully told county school officials not to bus their children from Heather Hills Elementary to Kenilworth Elementary during a public hearing Tuesday attended by about 200 people.
The county school system is considering a plan to convert Heather Hills Elementary into a Talented and Gifted (TAG) only school. The plan would require the busing of about 60 non-TAG, or comprehensive students, to Kenilworth. About 50 Kenilworth students would then be transferred to Tulip Grove Elementary.
School officials said the moves would make sense because there are already a large number of TAG students at Heather Hills and there is a high demand in the county for TAG school centers.
But that didn’t sit well with the audience during Tuesday night’s public hearing at Bowie High School.
Heather Hills student Amanda Lawson was perhaps the most poignant of the speakers. The 10-year-old approached the microphone with a purposeful stride. She read from a statement written in perfect cursive handwriting. She spoke without hesitation and a confidence some of the adult speakers lacked.
“Don’t you guys expel the non-TAG kids,” Amanda said. “Speaking for the non-TAG kids, leave the school alone. It's fine the way it is. This school is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Don’t change it.”
Heather Hills parent Nile Gardner was just as blunt, but in an adult way. He said the plan was “harmful and callous.”
“You’re proposing to destroy a close-knit community and one of the most successful schools in the state of Maryland,” said Gardner.
And during an “age of austerity,” he said adding on to costs with more busing was “an extraordinarily ridiculous move by the school board.”
Bowie Mayor G. Frederick Robinson and the Bowie City Council were also at the hearing.
“Our position is that neighborhood schools should remain neighborhood schools,” Robinson said. “We want to keep Bowie schools as close to the community as possible.”
The plan to adjust Heather Hills is part of a larger proposal to adjust a number of school boundaries across Prince George’s County. School system officials are also proposing to transfer about 100 students from Rockledge Elementary, which is over enrolled, to Yorktown Elementary, which is under enrolled to the point that there have been rumors Yorktown will be closed.
Several Rockledge parents, noting that the school has scored better on standardized tests in a number of areas than Yorktown, protested that they didn’t want their children transferred to Yorktown. Several Yorktown parents countered that Yorktown was an excellent school, and that Rockledge students would be warmly welcomed there.
Verjeana M. Jacobs, school board chairwoman and also Bowie’s representative on the board, told the audience that she has not decided on any of the boundary proposals. The school board is expected to vote on the boundary plan during the Jan. 5, 2012 meeting. If approved, the changes would take effect next fall.
Jacobs said she understood the feelings of Heather Hills parents, but that she has also received numerous requests from parents for more TAG schools.