The Loudoun County School Board decided against opening an abbreviated secondary school attendance zone change process to cluster align a Leesburg planning zone that includes parts of the Beacon Hill, Catoctin Ridge and Leeland Heights developments as well as Leeland Orchards development.
The board heard information about the proposed need for an abbreviated process at its Tuesday meeting.
The issue stems from the 2016 Central Loudoun elementary school rezoning. Planning zone CL05 — the planning zone that would have been affected by an abbreviated attendance zone change process — was one of a handful of Leesburg planning districts moved out of Leesburg elementary schools.
CL05 was moved to Kenneth Culbert Elementary School in Hamilton, but assigned to Smart’s Mill Middle School and Tuscarora High School in Leesburg at the secondary level.
Catoctin Representative Chris Croll said members of the CL05 planning zone approached her about a secondary school abbreviated process to move students to Harmony Middle School and Woodgrove High School to align the cluster. Croll the process had been considered by former Catoctin Representative Eric DeKenipp, who resigned from the board in 2018.
Croll said she felt the issue should be discussed by the full board for the sake of transparency. She also said that after the issue was brought up to her, she immediately received emails from other planning zone residents saying the desire to move to the western Loudoun schools was not universal.
The Beacon Hill HOA sent out a survey by Croll to residents, and 60 percent of survey responses were in favor of moving to the western schools. At public comment Tuesday night, the board heard from 14 parents in favor of keeping students at the central Loudoun secondary schools and from one parent in favor of moving out west.
Parents against the rezoning cited the fact that Woodgrove High School is two planning zones away and past Loudoun Valley High School, which they felt didn’t make geographical sense. Several parents said the time it would take students to get to and from school would limit how many extracurricular activities they could participate in, and it would decrease parent participation in schools.
Parents also said family’s lives are based in and around Leesburg. Parent Amber Wooten said the problem isn’t that the planning zone’s middle and high school aren’t out west, it’s that the elementary school assignment isn’t in Leesburg.
“Keep CL05 in our community. Our community is in Leesburg,” Leesburg mom Vashti Curtis said.
Eric Hornberger (Ashburn District) and Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge District) were in favor of initiating a process to get more information on the need for rezoning and possible solutions.
“I don’t look at this situation and say, if this process were to be implemented that I would know what my vote would be, or what the decision would be. That’s why we have process, [so] we can get the information and see what the options are,” Turgeon said.
Turgeon reminded the board that when the 2016 central Loudoun rezoning decision passed, the board recognized a need down the road to address the split feed. Kenneth Culbert elementary feeds into four middle schools.
Turgeon and Hornberger also questioned if the other two planning zones moved out of central Loudoun schools in 2016 should be included in an abbreviated process. Croll said CL06, which is across Route 7 from CL05 and also zoned out of Leesburg elementary schools had been “noticeably quiet” in the conversation.
Beth Huck (At-Large) was the first of several board members to express reservations about moving a process forward.
She said the special permission process exists for families who want their students to attend middle and high school out west and that the CL05 planning zone was not unified in wanting to move. She said the survey that went out through the Beacon Hill HOA did not go to every resident of the planning zone. Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles District) agreed.
“The survey that went out went to a subset of folks, but tonight’s public comment was open to all of those residents, all of them. They could have all come out here, they could have all spoken their minds, but the folks that came out and spoke their minds tonight gave us a very clear message that they don’t want to move,” Morse said.
Morse also said LCPS staff did not initiate the consideration of an abbreviated process or identify a problem in need of solving.
“They’re not turning a blind eye to the needs of the community,” Morse said.
Debbie Rose (Algonkian District) mirrored some of the transportation concerns brought up by parents, particularly for inexperienced high school students who would have to drive the western stretch of Route 7 during rush hour.
Tom Marshall (Leesburg District) said the board should be deliberate in how it uses the abbreviated zoning process that was created in 2017. He also said understands the sentiment that people want to be a part of Leesburg.
Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) said the comments that stood out to her were those of parents asking their planning zone be reassigned to a Leesburg elementary school, instead of Kenneth Culbert. However, this would not be addressed in the secondary school abbreviated process. Huck and Rose also expressed interest in looking at the elementary zoning.
Huck said in a few years there will likely be another central Loudoun rezoning, and the elementary school issue could be addressed then.
Croll said students will get an excellent education, regardless of whether they attend a Leesburg or Purcellville school. She said she felt opening an abbreviated process would be an overreach on the board’s part.
When Morse took a straw vote of how board members wanted to proceed, Hornberger and Turgeon were the sole votes in favor of initiating a process, and Rose, Huck, Croll, Sheridan, Morse and Marshall opposed. Joy Maloney (Broad Run District) was absent.
“If we were trying to solve an issue of overcrowding, not just cluster alignment, if we were trying to solve a couple different issues and this would help, this would make sense, but that’s not the case. It’s just a matter of desire, and we have a process in place to achieve that, and that’s called special permission,” Huck said. “There is room for those who want to go to western Loudoun schools through special permission, and I think that’s where we leave it, and we do status quo for right now.”