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A School Too Far

Residents on edge with boundary plan

Nine-year-old Lauren Clawson does not think her mother wants to drive her nine miles to school.

The fourth grader might not have a choice if the School Board passes the proposed attendance boundaries for Mercer Middle School and if she wakes up late. Eagle Ridge Middle School, which is three miles from her Ashburn home in Loudoun Valley Estates, is where she wants to go.

"I get up early as it is to catch the bus. Usually I can’t, so my mother takes me," Lauren said.

Kim Clawson lets Lauren sleep in if she wants, since the bus ride to Mill Run Elementary School takes 45 minutes and will take even longer to Mercer Middle School. "I would hate to see her go all the way to South Riding. If we wanted [her] to go there, we would have bought a house in South Riding," Clawson said.

Lauren was one of more than 40 people to speak last Thursday at the second boundary hearing for Mercer Middle School and two unnamed high schools in South Riding and Brambleton. Another 28 people spoke during the first boundary hearing on March 18.

The boundaries for Ashburn and Dulles South schools will change when Mercer Middle School opens in Aldie near South Riding in fall 2004 and HS-2 opens in South Riding and HS-4 in Brambleton open a year later. Under the staff’s proposed boundary plan, Mercer Middle School and HS-4 will serve the Dulles South area, South Riding, Aldie and most of the Arcola attendance area and HS-4 will serve the Broadlands and Brambleton developments.

THE MAJORITY of residents at the March 20 hearing were from Ashburn Farm to thank the School Board and staff for keeping the community together and from the neighborhoods of Loudoun Valley Estates, Broadlands, Red Hills and Ridges at Ashburn to bring up their concerns with the proposed boundary plan.

"There are schools within three miles of the development … yet our children will be shipped over eight miles to the South Riding school," said Susan Williams, a resident of Loudoun Valley Estates, adding that moving students to another school is one thing, but to a new community is another. "We live in Ashburn … not South Riding."

Residents living in the Ridges at Ashburn had similar concerns. Some of them wore red shirts and held up signs saying, "The Ridges of Ashburn. We will not be moved;" "Let us stay;" and "Happiness is Stone Bridge." They said they want the 80 children in the development to remain at Belmont Ridge Middle School, instead of attending Farmwell Station Middle School, and Stone Bridge High School instead of Broad Run High School.

"We are a small community. It’s always the small communities the School Board has to move," said Kevin Kelly about the 300 homes in the Ridges at Ashburn development. He is the father of three children and president of the homeowners association for Ridges at Ashburn and the nearby Courts of Ashburn. "I can’t see how these students will overpopulate any school, especially Stone Bridge. If Stone Bridge is full, the School Board should consider new communities being built. … We feel that we’re getting a raw deal."

Katherine Tipton, also of the Ridges at Ashburn, said the proposed boundary changes are "blindsiding logic" by sending students to schools that are further away and unnecessarily busing them. "We’re happy where we’re at. Leave us alone," she said.

OTHER RESIDENTS spoke in favor of the proposed boundary plan as it is drafted.

"Please don’t divide our community. Ashburn Farm will not fill Stone Bridge High School," said Dan Rust of Ashburn Farm and father of two children. "There is no imperative need to split Ashburn Farm. Ashburn Farm should be allowed to attend the community school built for them," said Colleen Painter, mother of three children.

School Board member Robert DuPree (new Dulles district) said the feedback the board received at the two boundary hearings and a third hearing scheduled this week will be "vital to this process."

"People have brought up some legitimate concerns," said the Ashburn Farm resident, adding that the impact on children will be the board’s priority. "We want them to go school with their friends in schools as close to their neighborhoods as possible. … I think in the end we’ll have a reasonable outcome."

"It’s become a way of life here in Loudoun County. There is no area in the county that isn’t subject to boundary changes," said Chairman Joseph Vogric (Dulles). "Even though people aren’t moving, people are moving in and out of schools. We, the School Board and staff, try to make it as least disruptive as possible."

The last boundary hearing is scheduled today at Hutchison Farm Elementary School in South Riding. The School Board’s final vote is scheduled on April 9.