ASPEN HILL – Parents and community activists are saying no to a move by the school system they say may put their neighborhood in danger. Activists from the Aspen Hill Civic Association and the Aspen Hill Homeowners association are asking the Montgomery County Board of Education to reconsider moving the county’s alternative education program from the Blair G. Ewing building in Rockville to the English Manor School. The Blair Ewing Center is being demolished to make way for a new bus depot.
“I want every kid to get the absolute best education they can get but the community has legitimate concerns when you locate a program like the alternative education program right in the middle of a neighborhood. There are issues of traffic and the safety issue is paramount,” said Aspen Hill Civic Association Vice President Jamison Adcock.
Concerns from the Aspen Hill community include a decline in property value, failure to include the community in the decision to move the school, traffic, safety concerns, school overcrowding, displacement of students from the School of Tomorrow and environmental concerns related to the redevelopment of the Blair Ewing site.
James Song, director of facilities management for MCPS, said the English Manor School is more suitable for an alternative education program and it wants to build a friendly and cooperative relationship with the community. The program currently has 120 students. Adcock said the program had 47 incidents involving police being called to the school for 212 students during the 2012-2013 school year while Rockville High School had 27 incidents for 1,200 students.
“The impact of the community was not even considered, it was whatever was convenient for the board. I think it’s even debatable that the location is good for the students just given where we are, embedded in a quiet neighborhood versus being in a more easily accessible area or closer to business and things like that. The board tried to say it would be an asset to the community, in what ways and how? None of these conversations have happened at all,” said resident Jess Rowden.
Members of the BOE called the testimony and comments of some community members disturbing.
“I was surprised and disappointed of the nature of the mail we got from community members. Unfortunately, Blair G. Ewing doesn’t have any parent community that advocates for it and I know we’ve tried hard to make sure that this board has advocated strongly for alternative programs. I am taken aback by the characterization of the young people who are in that program and there’s nobody to stand up for them and I’m going to do that in this instance,” Board member Chris Barclay said. “These are our children and they deserve to have as good of a facility as any middle and high school children in the county. We owe them a high quality of service and a high quality building that would be given to anyone else. While that may change traffic patterns in the neighborhood, I think that the benefit to the community will be much greater than the issue of traffic.”
Song said the next step for the school system is to ask the county government, who currently owns the buildings, for the right to use the building.
Adcock said the community is unsure of what its next move will be regarding the site relocation.