Leesburg school boundary issues make it to court
The heated topic of the CL19 school boundary issues was brought up in court April 27.
The issue stems from the past School Board who came to a decision in December 2011 to adopt the Bergel Plan 2 Amended which split the children living in zone CL19 between the new Frederick Douglass Elementary School and John W. Tolbert Jr. Elementary School.
A total of 106 residents signed the petition last year representing 135 students under the age of 11 in the CL19 zone under question.
Organized by resident Eric Dekenipp, the residents of cluster CL19 first outlined their concerns in a request to the Loudoun County School Board, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Potomac Station Home Owners Association and state Sen. Mark Herring (D-33rd) late last year.
Dekenipp and his lawyer John Whitebeck addressed Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne with representation of the CL5 (Beacon Hill) zone attorney Michael Petkovich representing Jeremy Acker against Loudoun County Public School’s council Julie Judkins and Stephen DeVita April 27.
The petitioners motioned for a discovery of more emails sent between past School Board members and to set a hearing date. The main concern from both petitioning sides was to get a decision for the students before the school year starts at the end of August.
“This is a big decision for this county,” Petkovich said. “I would ask not to rush this, I don’t think that our county sees decisions made on personal decisions.”
“We have less than 50 kids … I would like to have a decision before September,” Whitebeck added.
Petkovich said that the previous board made a lot of critical decisions behind closed doors and in open meetings that the public wasn’t aware of. In Judkins defense, LCPS had provided everything required under the Virginia statute and did provide emails that were requested by both petitioners.
“We have decisions made by the board behind closed doors. We need to get a real record here,” Petkovich said in regards to the discovery motion request made on April 27.
“The statute is very clear of what were are supposed to file,” Judkins said. “What else is relevant? There’s a lot of emails … what you’re going to see is one residential development blasting the school board.”
She added that this isn’t a lawsuit, it’s an appeal, one that Petkovich had mentioned earlier in the hearing that they wanted to dispose all the School Board members and question them why they voted on the zoning plan.
According to the letter, one of those concerns included a failure to achieve the publicly stated goals and objectives outlined throughout the hearing process.
“At all seven hearings, a few of the stated goals were to relieve John W. Tolbert Jr. Elementary from being over capacity, balance the Free and Reduced Lunch and the ESL ratio,” the letter states. “The adopted plan is clearly not the solution because under the plan both Free Lunch and ESL ratios are over 30 percent at Frederick Douglass, which makes it the highest populated in both categories for elementary schools in the Leesburg area.”
The letter also questions the proximity and demographics of the students in CL19.
“Cluster 19.0 residents will now have to bus/ drop off their children to a site that is located approximately 3 miles away in the opposite direction, compared to a door to door proximity with Tolbert elementary of 0.2 miles. Maintaining proximity was a goal of the board, but this goal was not met, and the decision will create child care and transportation hardships for our families,” the letter says. “The publicly stated demographic goals were not met with the plan that was adopted. In fact, the adopted plan actually created a new school with demographic rates that are inconsistent, unsound and raise the question of whether specific communities were given special interest based on economic and political influence.”
The residents also feel that a lack of clarity continued to be a problem throughout this process, despite the school system providing a letter to parents of school aged children regarding the possible re-zoning.
“To our knowledge, families without children in LCPS did not receive a letter via USPS or any other official communication. Most of CL19.0 families that we have spoken with feel as though we have not been properly informed by the school board throughout the entire re-zoning process,” the letter states. “During the time period of the seven public hearings, none of our families had received any official correspondence from the board regarding our clusters inclusion in the re-zoning plan and that we had the possibility of moving.”
Horne granted a limited discovery and set a trial date for Aug. 14 and 15 at 9 a.m., with a pre-trial date of Aug. 7 at 4 p.m.
Although the trial states nearly a week before school, Horne said the children who face attending the new school may end up going there and if the decision were overturned they would be moved back to their old school.