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'One Fairfax' social, racial equity policy has some residents fearing return to forced busing

Families at overcrowded schools fear their concerns are getting overlooked.

CHANTILLY, Va. — Concerns over possible boundary changes and busing has infuriated some Fairfax County parents.The new "One Fairfax" social and racial equity policy has some residents fearing a return to forced busing for desegregation.  

Busing students long distances in order to bring more racial and social economic diversity is something School Board member Elizabeth Schultz said she's trying to stop.

"When one of the main features of the policy talks about social, economic, or race, constitution of the school, the characteristics of children, and re-balancing that ... You're talking about busing students they say, no, this is not about busing it's about transportation," Schultz said.

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The issue of reworking a new boundary policy was discussed at a school board  work session this week. 

"This is just at the policy level," Pat Hynes, school board member said. "We are not, in this conversation, talking about any particular boundary changes. We're certainly not taking on  a project of 70s-style desegregation through busing. Everybody knows that doesn't work and we're not doing that."

She said all they're doing is updating the boundary policy.

"We don't ever want to make a decision that makes equity and diversity worse off in the school system," Hynes said. "In other words, we don't want to change a boundary that would make socio-economic imbalance worse. So that's why we look through that equity lens in all of decisions including boundaries."

Credit: Peggy Fox
Trailers at McLean High School

School Board Chair Karen Corbett Sanders said in a statement that the review came about because of overcrowding issues at several schools -- dozens of trailers surround Chantilly, Centreville and McLean High Schools. 

Those schools are all about 120 percent overcrowded.  

"We're not talking about some kids being uncomfortable or inconvenienced," McClean parent Vance Gore said. "We're talking about kids who cannot get in the building or out of the building when there is an emergency."

Gore worries that the school board developing new policy and then a system-wide boundary review will take too long to fix the immediate problem of overcrowded schools.

"We need to solve those problems now," Schultz said. "And we've kicked the can down the road by stopping the expedited boundary studies. And instead the board continues to off road into social engineering, all other places and this is not what families want."

Before the school board adopts this new boundary policy, they want community input. They're planning to hire a consultant to facilitate community engagement.

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Statement from Fairfax County School Board Chair Karen Corbett Sanders: 

“There is a great deal of misinformation circulating in the community and the media regarding the School Board’s ongoing discussions around our boundary policy (Policy 8130).

“The School Board work session on Monday, July 22, was the fourth meeting the Board has held to discuss the policy. All of the meetings have been advertised and open to the public. This past Monday’s discussion was delayed to allow staff time to set up an overflow room to accommodate the community members.

“The review of the boundary policy was initiated because of the issue of overcrowding at several schools, the reliance on trailers (over 700) across the county to manage overcrowding, a recognition that the current level of bond funding to support renovations and construction is not sufficient to address overcapacity in a timely manner, and that the current boundary policy has not had a comprehensive review since the 1980s. FCPS staff presented a draft policy in which “capacity surplus or deficit of an existing school” was listed as a reason to revise school boundaries. The Board’s boundary policy meetings have not included any discussion about specific boundary changes.

“The School Board has not discussed nor recommended ‘cross town’ busing of students to other schools outside their communities in the boundary policy review. Cross town busing is not an option under consideration for the policy. It should be noted that the current policy includes the consideration of walking and busing routes, busing times, and costs. FCPS provides transportation services (buses) for 110,000 students every day to and from their neighborhood schools or to special programs away from their base schools.

“The Board is not planning to decide on a new boundary policy in September. The Board has requested the superintendent to hire an outside consultant to work with the Board to identify best practices and engage the community in the discussion. The Board also requested of the superintendent to identify ‘hot’ areas that are not included in the current FCPS Capital Improvement Program but may need a boundary adjustment.”

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