Rising juniors and seniors will be exempt from redistricting for Howard County's 13th high school

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Sep. 23—The Howard County Board of Education voted Wednesday to exempt all rising 11th graders from the latest redistricting plan during its first work session on the superintendent's Proposed Attendance Area Adjustment Plan related to the opening of the county's 13th high school next fall.

The board also approved filling the new high school in Jessup solely with ninth and 10th graders and requested analysis on a range of other modifications, including exempting rising sophomores from redistricting.

"[Redistricting] is a significant change for rising juniors," said board member Chao Wu. "There's no way we should not exempt them. If there's a difficulty we need to overcome, the school system should overcome that difficulty."

Only 12th graders were previously exempt from redistricting next year, under HCPSS Policy 6010, which outlines how school area adjustments occur.

The motion passed 4-0-3, with board members Jennifer Mallo, Jolene Mosley and Antonia Watts abstaining. Abstaining board members said they wanted additional data, as consulting firm Cooperative Strategies and school staff could not immediately say how many rising juniors would be affected by the plan and what effect exemptions would have on bus routes.

"These are not things that we should be taking so casually and lightly to say that we're just going to bear it," Watts said. "By us bearing it, we may be instituting [busing] double backs for students that are eating into their wakeup times."

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Under Superintendent Michael Martirano's proposal, about 2,555 high school students and 46 middle school students would be reassigned to relieve system overcrowding and populate high school 13 when it opens next fall. The board is set to adopt boundaries for the 2023-24 school year by Nov. 17.

At a public hearing on Sept. 14, dozens of community members spoke about the academic, social and mental harm of reassigning high school upperclassmen.

"Junior year is probably the most important year in anyone's life," said Mount Hebron sophomore Ojas Punje. "It is when you push through your AP classes to get a good GPA, take the SAT, and build more extracurricular activities and much more."

Elkridge residents had also criticized the redistricting proposal for moving nearly 1,000 students from Long Reach and Howard high schools to the new high school in the county's southeast. They said the move would create a dangerous commute down Route 1 and Interstate 95 and asked the board to consider Figure B-8 from the appendices of the 2022 Feasibility Study as an alternative plan.

At the work session, the school board approved a motion requesting additional data on B-8, which would keep most Elkridge residents at Long Reach and Howard high schools but still reassign more than 5,300 students.

Follow-up public work sessions begin at 4 p.m. and are scheduled for Sept. 28; Oct. 3, 13, 27; Nov. 2 and 14. The board will hold another public hearing on redistricting on Oct. 19 if there is sufficient public demand. All information requested by the board at this week's session will be posted online ahead of the next meeting.

Community members must register to testify at a public hearing and may also submit written testimony. The public may attend work sessions in person or via livestream, but cannot participate in them.