Accusations of bias and discrimination fly at latest Crofton Area High School redistricting meeting

By Natalie Adams

The Board of Education (BOE) for Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) held a meeting open to public comment on the proposals for redistricting for the Crofton Area High School on Tuesday, March 19th at Arundel High School. At the meeting, parents and community members made claims of discrimination and bias towards the proposals, redistricting committee, and other attendees.

The meeting was very divisive with one group that was deemed “Crofton” people wearing red and sitting on one side of the auditorium, while the group referred to as “Arundel,” “Odenton,” “Gambrills,” and “West Side” people wearing green and sitting on the other. The “Crofton” side wore matching stickers that read, “Crofton for Option 1.” It was also noted several times that the scene at the meeting was reminiscent of the conflict between the Sharks and the Jets from West Side Story, which had a backdrop set up on stage for the school musical.

“Crofton” people were primarily in favor of Option One, since it would be more beneficial to Crofton, whereas “Arundel” people were proponents of Options Two and Three because they were better for schools in the Gambrills-Odenton area. Every time someone was at the microphone for their three minutes to testify, their side, whether it be “Crofton” or “Arundel,” would stand with them as a sign of solidarity, a tactic commonly used by the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County (TAAAC).

“Crofton” people supported their argument for Option One with the facts that the redistricting committee had voted for Option One, Superintendent Dr. George Arlotto recommended it, and that it would reduce overcrowding in Crofton schools.

Option One would move all of the students who live in Two Rivers and Forks of the Patuxent (1038B) along with the Waugh Chapel neighborhood (1038C) out of Crofton Elementary and into Piney Orchard Elementary until West County Elementary is built. These students would also attend Arundel Middle and Arundel High school instead of Crofton Middle and Crofton Area High. Riverwalk (1038A) would be sent to Crofton Woods Elementary, Crofton Middle, and Crofton High. Option One would also send all of the students who live in the Crofton Elementary, Nantucket Elementary, and Crofton Meadows attendance zones to Crofton Area High instead of Arundel High, where they currently attend. Students who live in Crofton Woods and Crofton Meadows attendance zones who currently go to South River High would also be moved to Crofton Area High.

While Option One was strongly supported by “Crofton” people, it was staunchly opposed by “Arundel” people in favor of Options Two and Three.

Option Two would move 1038B from Crofton Elementary to Piney Orchard Elementary until West County Elementary opens, and then on to Arundel Middle and Arundel High. 1038C would be moved from Crofton Elementary to Crofton Meadows and on to Crofton Middle and Crofton High until West County Elementary opens, at which time 1038C will be moved a second time to West County Elementary and on to Arundel Middle and Arundel High. 1038A would be the same as Option One, as would the students moved from Arundel and South River High to Crofton Area High.

Option Three would move 1038B from Crofton Elementary to Piney Orchard Elementary until West County Elementary is built and on to Arundel Middle and Arundel High, the same as both Option One and Two. However, 1038C would remain at Crofton Elementary and go on to Crofton Middle and Crofton Area High. Then comes the big shuffle; 1046 would be moved from Crofton Elementary to Crofton Meadows Elementary and 1047 would be moved from Crofton Meadows Elementary to Crofton Woods Elementary. 1038A would go to Crofton Woods and onto Crofton Middle and Crofton High, and students moved from Arundel and South River High to Crofton High would be the same as in Option one and Two.

There is a fourth option that would allow students in 1038B and 1038C to choose between Crofton Elementary and Piney Orchard Elementary and their subsequent Middle and High Schools, but this option was barely mentioned at the meeting.

“Crofton” people primarily pointed out the benefits of Option One, whereas “Arundel” people mostly pointed out the disadvantages of it and sometimes only stated that they opposed Option One instead of the plan they supported.

One attendee, Alison Alstowski, stated, “we have to choose the option that makes the most sense logistically and financially,” and claimed that is Option One.

Jonathan Boniface, the Chairperson of the Redistricting Committee, summed up the “Crofton” sentiment when he said, “Crofton High School is no longer a dream for our community… Crofton’s dream has become a reality,” but went on to warn of the overcrowding already existing in Crofton.

“Arundel” people also commented on overcrowding at Piney Orchard Elementary and Arundel Middle. Arthur Yates, an opponent of Option One, stated, “we, at least in the short term, need to share the pain and not shove it all to the West side,” as a qualification to overcrowding.

In regard to claims made by both sides, Matthew Lake stated, “it’s overcrowded everywhere. It’s not a Crofton Problem, it’s not an Odenton problem, it’s a county problem.”

Another opponent of Option One, Bonnie Schofield, raised the concern of roads that make up the route to Piney Orchard are prone to flooding, and claimed that the redistricting committee voted for Option One because “the committee had an overwhelming amount of Crofton Representatives.”

Andrew Green, a proponent of Option Three, made claims of gerrymandering and said, “the diverse community is getting kicked out of the shiny new high school,” and pointed out that no one on the redistricting committee even looked at demographics.

Shortly after Green’s statement, two other attendees expressed that the 1038C community was notably diverse and a third attendee even claimed that “Crofton” people were exercising their white privilege by opposing Options Two and Three. At this, one of the attendees on the “Crofton” side walked up to the microphone to discredit the statement about white privilege, even though it was not her turn to speak, however time had already run out for the man who made the claim when she began speaking.

Many attendees were riled up by the claims about race and demographics, however, in an interview, Bob Mosier, Chief Communications Officer for AACPS, explained that “you can’t redistrict–you can’t draw boundary lines based solely on demographics. It’s illegal,” so the committee did not have that information available to them. The committee was also not allowed to look at things like test scores for the same reason.

At this point, tensions were extremely high and one attendee accused board member Dana Schallheim of walking out when she was just going to the bathroom.

Attendees became even more frustrated when BOE President Terry Gilleland announced what he called the last five names on the list for public comment because there were still more people who had signed up to speak. It turned out to just be a clerical error and everyone who signed up was allotted their three minutes to speak. After everyone on the list had gone, Gilleland even opened the floor to anyone who was not on the list or who wanted to speak again.

The BOE will vote on redistricting at their meeting on Wednesday, April 17th, starting at 7:00 p.m. at the Parham Building.