‘Just untenable’: Calls mount for improvements at South Lake Elementary

Parents, teachers and local religious leaders turned out at an elementary school in Montgomery County, Maryland, to call for construction of a new school, which they say is desperately needed.

Members of Action in Montgomery, a community advocacy group, stood outside the building that was riddled with problems, from overcrowding to infrastructure and even rodents, as WTOP reported over the summer.

South Lake has almost 900 students, which is well over the original building capacity, and is home to the most Black and Latino students of any county elementary school. It also has the highest number of children who are participating in free meal programs.

“It’s just untenable to think that a school that’s filled with Black and brown children is going to be passed up,” said Daniel Xisto, pastor at Takoma Park SDA Church, directly to the county council. “They need to be woken up.”

Back in May, county lawmakers voted unanimously to delay South Lake’s new school construction by a year, with a completion date of September 2024, despite Montgomery County Public Schools’ recommendation to prioritize the school in the county’s Capital Improvements Program.

The Montgomery County school board recommended that the council reverse their decision and put the school back on track for a September 2023 completion.

County Council member Craig Rice chaired a session of his Education and Culture Committee last month to revisit the issue. A plan is on the table to rearrange and front-load fiscal year funding to accomplish that goal.

All committee members agreed during their meeting that South Lake needed to be prioritized, including Rice, who said that South Lake “certainly rises to the top.”

Mark Raphael, who served for 16 years as rabbi of Kehilat Shalom in Montgomery Village, said it is a matter of will and doing the right thing.

“Obviously, we have here an unhealthy and an unsafe school for almost 900 students,” Raphael said at the South Lake press event this week. “That’s inexcusable in a county with our resources.”

The county council’s Education and Culture Committee plans to continue discussing the matter at the Oct. 19 session before presenting recommendations to the full council for a vote.

But parents and students who were at the press conference this week at South Lake expressed what they believe is a real need to get a new school as quickly as possible.

“My brother and sister go here,” said student Sarah Insasadio, who graduated from South Lake. “I want them to at least have a better school than it was before because there’s a lot of trouble here.”

Ken Duffy

Ken Duffy is a reporter and anchor at WTOP with more than 20 years of experience. He has reported from major events like the 2016 Democratic and Republican National Conventions, 2016 Election Night at Trump Headquarters in Midtown Manhattan and the 2007 Super Bowl in Miami.

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