School Boundary Case Still Uncertain After Second Day In Court
By Danielle Nadler
Aug. 15, 2012
After two full days of arguments presented by attorneys representing two Loudoun neighborhoods, and the counter arguments of the Loudoun County School Board’s attorney, in the Leesburg school boundary case, Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne assured them, “Your arguments have not fallen on deaf ears.”
Just 11 days before the start of the school year, the decision of which elementary school roughly three dozen Leesburg-area students will attend is up to Horne. He will hear closing arguments Thursday morning and is expected to issue a decision before the first day of school Aug. 27.
Parents in two communities—part of Potomac Station in east Leesburg and Beacon Hill to the west—filed separate petitions for judicial review with the Loudoun County Circuit Court after the School Board adopted a new attendance zone boundary map Dec. 13, 2011, reassigning more than 1,000 Leesburg-area students including their children to different elementary schools. The attendance zones were changed to make room for the new Frederick Douglass Elementary School, located near Plaza Street and Old Sycolin Road.
The attendance map ultimately adopted moved some students living in Potomac Station from the overcrowded John W. Tolbert Elementary School to the new school and Beacon Hill students from Frances Hazel Reid Elementary School to Catoctin Elementary School, a move the School Board said helped more evenly distribute the students considered low-income and English Language Learners among the area schools.
Michael N. Petkovich, representing the six petitioners from Beacon Hill, had the floor most of Wednesday, calling two Beacon Hill parents and Mary Kearny, director of special education for Loudoun County Public Schools, to the stand. He questioned Micah Green and Miguel Morales of Beacon Hill about their efforts to get a School Board member to sponsor a proposed attendance zone map they drafted during the two-month boundary decision process.
Petkovich suggested the attendance map proposed by Beacon Hill was pushed aside after a list of recommendations to meet the needs of special education students put out by school system staff late in the attendance zone process automatically eliminated their plan and five others. He asked Kearny to tell the court how the number of special education students and classrooms projected in December 2011 had changed for almost every one of the Leesburg elementary schools. Some schools added a classroom for autistic children, while others added classrooms for early childhood education, and still others eliminated special education classrooms as the final student count for the school year takes shape, Keary told the court.
When asked whether similar changes could be made to the map proposed by Beacon Hill, just as the adopted map was, Kearny responded, “Depending on the capacity, yes sir.”
In response, Judkins later told Horne that his decision is not whether the attendance map the School Board adopted was the best plan, but whether it was legal for the board to implement it.
“Federal law requires that special education students learn in the least restrictive environment,” Judkins continued. “They had the right to consider special education recommendations, and they did.”
After both Whitbeck and Petkovich had presented their cases, Judkins said she did not plan to call witnesses or present any more evidence than what is stated in the record because the case is a judicial review and not a typical civil case. The petitioners in a judicial review have the burden to present evidence to strike the School Board’s decision, she added.
Horne agreed that she would not need to come forward with evidence, but said if she did it would be “icing on the cake.”