Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) could see changes to the boundaries of the district — but no decisions have been made as of yet. The Fairfax County School Board (FCSB) is making changes to the boundary policy, which determines exactly how the board can change the boundaries themselves.
FCSB held public meetings about boundaries and what could be different should the board move forward with implementing changes September 13, 14, and 21.
In the webinar held September 14, Michael Raisor, the senior vice president of the education solutions group at MGT Consulting, led the discussion.
“A boundary is where there is a line that says if you live on one side of the line, you go to one school, if you live on the other side of the line, you go to another school, and the state of Virginia gives school boards that authority just as they have given the Fairfax County School Board that authority,” he said.
Raisor noted multiple reasons why Fairfax County could see a boundary shift.
“So, as we as we look at Fairfax County today, the first thing that should be noted is the current boundary policy has not been updated since 1986. That’s not terrible, but it should be reviewed. And that is really the purpose of why we are doing this project here, so it can be reviewed and so if it is to be changed, that it’s done with best practice in mind,” he said.
However, the policy 8130.7 document states that the policy has been revised since 1986, the latest in 2013.
Aside from this, Raisor also noted that the funding the district has “isn’t really sufficient to address the capacity demands of the district in certain schools,” as well as the renovation costs.
Additionally, Raisor noted that rising population growth in the county — as demonstrated by the demand for more housing in the area — could impact the need for changes in the district’s boundaries.
“Then there’s also a demand for additional Pre-K across the district — it currently is not a comprehensive thing across the district. But if Pre-K were added to elementary schools, that would limit the capacity for the other grades, which could create the need for a boundary shift,” Raisor explained.
He also noted that with more students, comes the need for more school buses, creating a financial impact.
“Almost 140,000 of the 190,000 students in Fairfax County use the school buses, and that can be a major inefficiency in a school district. For example, a national average is every year, a school bus costs you $60,000. So you can quickly see what an additional 10 school buses could do,” he explained.
Raisor said that there is no one right way for a community to implement a boundary policy, but there are different options to do so — like through a standard or administrative adjustment.
A standard boundary adjustment is one that supports any type of changes, “but requires a stringent process,” while an administrative approach “can be periodic but allow for smaller-scale change to accommodate emergency or temporary change for unexpected circumstances,” according to the presentation showed at the webinar.
However, opposition has been raised to potential changes in the boundary policy. VOICES of Fairfax (VoF), “a group of parents committed to neighborhood schools and electing leaders who support them,” thinks that “there is nothing inherently wrong with the current policy.”
In a newsletter post sent out September 1, the organization said the school board “wants the same unpopular changes we protested two years ago.”
In another message sent September 2, the group stated, “We cannot give the board blanket power to affect where students go to school — where your house is zoned — with nondescript, vague language that can be dynamically translated to meet political agendas.”
Voices of Fairfax, through group member Laura Troxell, said that changing based on “equity” and “socioeconomic status” is damaging — and not right for students’ needs.
“The board is choosing to prioritize equal outcomes over creating equal opportunity at each school. They are perhaps facing increased pressure to demonstrate good results after the learning loss that occurred last year during COVID,” Troxell said.
Erin Lobato, a mother in Fairfax County, also believes that potential boundary changes could be detrimental to students.
While Lobato understands that school boundaries do need to change at times, she believes it should be used as a last resort — not the first solution a board turns to. She does not believe the board should move forward with boundary changes in general — and is hoping for more transparency as the process continues.
“It just doesn’t feel like they’re trying to engage the community as much as possible. Rather, they’re trying to just check a box of saying, ‘Well, we did it’ — not really trying to genuinely listen to what the community’s saying,” Lobato said.
Aside from the issue of transparency in the policy-changing process, both VoF and Lobato expressed concerns regarding how this could affect students.
“VoF believes that the children of Fairfax County should not be seen only as demographic groups but as individual students,” said Troxell. “The board should focus on improving instruction for students. It does not make sense that they would begin a process as political as boundaries at a time like this.”
Lobato said that this choice to change the boundary policy not only takes away parents’ ability to choose their children’s schools when purchasing a home or settling down but would affect the kids themselves.
“When you go and make changes to those things, and you change the way that a neighborhood or a street or a particular community — kind of change where they’re going to schools — you’re kind of ripping apart that social fabric and you have to start over again,” she explained.