Parents of students at West Springfield and Lee High Schools can now focus on what classes their children will take in the fall, not which school they will attend.
During the Fairfax County School Board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 23, the board decided to keep the enrollment boundaries for those schools unchanged.
“We were really pleased,” said Anne McEvoy, an Orange Hunt mother and member of the “Orange Crush” group of parents who advocated for what was referred to as ‘option four,’ the choice presented to the board by the Office of Facilities Planning that advocated leaving the boundaries intact.
“We knew a day or so beforehand that the motion that was going to be offered had changed,” McEvoy said.
In January, Gary Chevalier, director of the Office of Facilities Planning, told the School Board during a regular meeting that his office determined the best solution to the split feeder problem at West Springfield High School was to move the 20 students from the Daventry neighborhood into West Springfield from Lee High School. The students, Chevalier explained, were the only ones from Irving Middle School that did not go on to West Springfield with their classmates, and moving them in to West Springfield would not cause excessive overcrowding at that school.
“I think the School Board made the right decision,” said Daventry resident Steve Dietz. “The whole balance of what’s best for both schools was centered on option four more than any of the other options presented.”
Over the course of the boundary study, parents from several communities, including Daventry, Orange Hunt and Rolling Valley, became vocal about what they felt was the best solution for their children.
Some advocated for the closure of the split feeder elementary schools that separate their children from their friends, either at the elementary or middle school level. Others felt it was best to leave the boundaries the way they stood because moving children into West Springfield could cause the school to be overcrowded, a concern that first came to the school board’s attention when the South Hunt Valley neighborhood was moved into West Springfield during the creation of the South County Secondary School a year ago.
“If I would’ve been asked in November what I thought was going to happen, I would’ve been surprised this was their decision,” said Dietz, whose daughter is a sophomore at Lee. Following a public hearing in January that opened with more than 30 students testifying before the School Board, Dietz said he thinks the board members may have changed their minds.
“The students all spoke so well, which suggests the quality of education all children in Fairfax County schools receive,” he said.
Not all parents were as pleased as Dietz and McEvoy with the School Board’s decision.
"We were disappointed in the outcome," said Betsy McArdle, a Rolling Valley Elementary School parent who had hoped the board would approve a motion to allow her son, currently in kindergarten, to go to Irving Middle School instead of Key Middle School with the rest of his friends.
"The intent of this study all along the way was to eliminate the split feeder, and we had hoped to have even a partial elimination," she said.
While she expects the split feeder issue to come up again, it is unlikely the subject will be brought up again until the overcrowding at South County Secondary School and the empty seats at Lake Braddock and Hayfield Secondary Schools are resolved.
"It was a good fight, but now we'll have to wait and see how the other major issues play out," McArdle said.
For some Daventry parents, however, the resolution was just another form of exclusion.
“I was dismayed,” said Lee parent Dave Aland.
His frustration is with his board member, Cathy Belter, whom Aland said “made this nice little speech about keeping the community together. As a resident of West Springfield, I feel a little unwelcomed.”
Aland said his children often experience “unwelcoming” situations at Irving Middle School. When counselors from West Springfield visit the school in the spring to register rising freshmen for classes, all students leave their classrooms and meet with counselors. When it comes time for the students who will attend Lee to select their courses, they have to be excused from class and return to make up work, Aland said.
“These are kids who spend eight or nine or 10 years together, with the same group of friends, but they’re not allowed to go to school together,” he said. “It’s not fair. I’m very disappointed.”
The Daventry community has been lobbying the School Board for the majority of the 20 years it has existed, School Board member Dan Storck has said. Aland believes his community will continue to work to be moved into West Springfield High School.
“We’re not finished. The School Board decided to do something about the inequities at the school, but those inequities are still there,” he said. “The inequities will remain and they need to be addressed. This is about making a better educational environment for our kids.”
Making the transition from middle school to high school, or from one group of friends to another, is something that can be made easier by involvement in activities, Dietz said. His own daughter “had reservations going to Lee” and leaving her Irving friends who attend West Springfield, but by participating in clubs at Lee, “within a month or so, she was happy,” he said.
Concerns over boundary studies are felt more by parents than by students, Dietz said.
“Kids will go on to college some day. They’re plug and play, once they get involved in activities, they’re fine.”
Aland disagrees and asks why students should be expected to “get over” going to a different school from their friends.
“There are some things kids shouldn’t be forced in to,” he said.