‘Not perfect’ plan to shift Arlington County students’ schools draws criticism, nears vote

Arlington County, Virginia, has a problem: Many of its schools are overcrowded, while others have empty seats. And the plan to even that out is not popular with some parents whose kids would be affected.

The superintendent’s proposal, which has been debated for a few months, calls for most McKinley Elementary School students, as well as the principal and all the school staff, to move to Reed, a new school that is opening in the county.

In addition, students at Key Immersion School would move to the Arlington Traditional School site, and all the students and staff at Arlington Traditional would move to McKinley. In all, more than 2,400 students would switch schools under this plan, and some would go to school further away from where they live.

Larry Smith, a parent who spoke at Thursday night’s Arlington County School Board meeting, was not a fan. “To move nearly a quarter of all elementary school students in the county just to accommodate choice programs at Key or at ATS, I feel, is totally ridiculous.”

Other parents complained at the meeting that the goals of the plan are not well-articulated.

It created an uncomfortable moment when Lisa Stengle, the executive director of planning and evaluation, told board members that the goals had evolved as the staff received community input. That then prompted an outbreak of laughter from the crowd at the meeting.

School Board Chair Tannia Talento asked anyone who was at the meeting who could not control their emotions to step out in the hallway until they could.

Talento also acknowledged the school board has tough decisions to make, and that the decisions have a big impact on families.

“We do recognize that they have impacts on your daily life, on your children’s friendships, on your children’s connections, on your children’s stability,” Talento said.

School Board member Nancy Van Doren said of the proposal, “I know it’s not perfect. There’s not one right answer; there cannot be a right answer.”

There is one alternative proposal, which would adjust all elementary school boundaries. That reassigns close to 40% of neighborhood elementary school students to another school.

The final public hearing on the changes is set for Jan. 30, with a final vote set for Feb. 6.

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