As the Prince William County School Board weighs the boundary plan for a 13th high school, and the impact it will have on the demographics at three surrounding schools, two more schools may be thrown into the mix, impacting hundreds of additional high school students.
The new school will open to students in fall 2021 at 13150 University Blvd. near Jiffy Lube Live amphitheater, with an eye on reducing overcrowding at Battlefield, Patriot and Stonewall Jackson high schools. After a request from board member Gil Trenum, Brentsville District, planning staff created a boundary proposal that includes students from Brentsville and Osbourn Park.
The plan is not included with two plans that staff has recommended for consideration, but still could be used by board members to draw up final boundaries.
Board member Lillie Jessie, Occoquan District, said that community members contacted her to request Osbourn Park High not be included in the new boundary plan, noting how late it is in the process.
The school division has held two public meetings to discuss division staff proposals to shift students from Battlefield, Patriot and Stonewall Jackson, but parents, faculty and students from Stonewall Jackson have been critical of the proposals and the impact it would have on diversity at the three schools.
The opening of the 13th high school will accommodate 2,557 students. With more than 8,000 students and 45 classroom trailers among the three existing high schools, Battlefield High is over capacity by 46.4%, Patriot High is over capacity by 30% and Stonewall Jackson High is over capacity by 2.7%.
Alyson Satterwhite, Gainesville District, said she was surprised at the beginning of the 13th high school boundary planning process that the school division wasn’t including Osbourn Park and Brentsville high schools as part of redrawing boundary lines.
The school board has final authority to make changes to the proposed boundaries and will hold a public hearing and potentially vote on the boundary plans at its meeting Wednesday, June 19, at 7 p.m. at the Kelly Leadership Center, 14715 Bristow Road.
- See the proposed boundary changes and how they will affect your neighborhood.
‘Asking for a just plan’
Between the two plans recommended by staff to the school board June 5, minority students at Stonewall Jackson would increase from 80.8% to 89.2% or 85.6%. Both of the other two schools would see a decrease in minority students.
Riley O’Casey, president of the Prince William Education Association, said the association doesn’t support the plans as they’ve been proposed because the increased minority population at Stonewall and decreased minority population at the other two campuses.
“I think what’s really sad it’s become so contentious,” O’Casey said. “It’s pitting neighbor against neighbor and school against school.”
Two days after graduating from Stonewall Jackson, Lubna Azmi, former senior class president at Stonewall Jackson, attended the school board meeting Wednesday because she cares about the community. She asked the school board to find a compromise and demographic balance. “We’re asking for a just plan,” she said.
Chuck Ronco, math teacher at Stonewall Jackson, said he met with planning staff as they developed an alternative plan for the board to consider, but that it “doesn’t go far enough” to balance how changes will impact demographics at the schools.
Unlike the boundary planning process for elementary or middle schools, the school division hasn’t created a community committee to develop the plans. Ronco asked the school board to consider changing that policy so that the school division would establish a community committee to assist in the development of new high school boundaries.
Cozy Bailey, president of the Prince William County Chapter of the NAACP, told the school board the planning staff has endeavored to bring back segregation. He asked the school board to reject the staff proposals and create a new plan that doesn’t pack Stonewall Jackson with students who are minorities, those with limited English proficiency and economically disadvantaged students.
“It’s the responsibility of the entire community to make sure it doesn’t happen,” Bailey said.
Bristow resident Katherine Jones said she would support one of the proposals, because it keeps her neighborhood’s children at Patriot High, while the other plan would split her neighborhood and send some students to Stonewall Jackson.
“I don’t have an issue with Stonewall Jackson, I just want to go to school with the kids and families we’ve grown up with,” Jones said.
Jessie also said the school board needs to make sure schools get the resources they need to help students perform academically and she questioned whether the boundary plan would hold up against any court challenge.
Satterwhite said she heard the Stonewall Jackson community “loud and clear.” She also noted that the school division plans to renovate the first floor of Osbourn Park and Stonewall Jackson next summer.
The boundary planning process is not meant to pit communities against each other, Satterwhite said. Instead, the focus is overcrowding.
“That’s why we have the 13th high school so we can reduce class sizes and so we can allow students to transfer,” she said. “In order to have that kind of space in the school, the school’s need to be below 100% capacity at year 3 and year 5 or else we can’t reduce class sizes and allow for transfers, which allow kids to try different things according to their interests.”
School Board Chair Babur Lateef asked the public to continue emailing the school board, but also to consider emailing the county’s board of county supervisors to ask for more funding for specialty programs at more high schools.