Stunned by what many believe to be an "out of the blue" decision to close Eastwood Elementary Magnet School, local parents plan to take their concerns to the Baltimore County Board of Education meeting Tuesday night.
In a hastily called meeting held Dec. 10, Baltimore County Public Schools officials told parents of their plans to close Eastwood at the end of the current school year, and shared with them two options for their students' futures.
The plan potentially affects Norwood Elementary and Holabird Middle schools in addition to Eastwood.
Parents were told of two options on the table for the three schools. One would merge all three schools, creating a pre-K-8 academy that would be a magnet program for science, technology, engineering and math education.
In that plan, the Norwood building would house students in pre-kindergarten through third grade, and the Holabird Middle building would be home to students in grades four through eight.
The second plan would see Norwood continue as a pre-K-5 elementary school with special focus on STEM subjects, while Eastwood and Holabird would merge to form the K-8 STEM academy at the middle school building.
In both plans, Eastwood ceases to exist.
Rich Foot, who has two children at Eastwood, said he was blind-sided by the announcement, and questions the timing of the meeting.
"They tell you something at a busy time of year and they hope you won't pay attention," he said of the meeting called two weeks before Christmas.
He called the decision to target the three Dundalk schools a matter of "economic racism."
The "forced reorganization" of more than 1,000 students, parents and staff members was done without community input or any semblance of a collaborative effort, Foot believes.
Foot, who is a former educator and well-known weather forecaster, said that, as a scientist, he believes such major decisions should be arrived at using research-based data and industry best practices, and sees none of that here.
He also takes issue with school system deputy superintendent Kevin Hobbs telling parents, at the beginning of the Dec. 10 meeting, that no schools were being closed and no programs were being lost.
Hobbs even explained to an audience of about 150 people that the state has a set, year-long process of meetings and public input if a school system closes a school, and that just isn't the case with Eastwood.
"'A school is not closing'—it's all semantics," Foot said. "Mr. Hobbs acts as though none of the 60,000 people of Dundalk can read, write or speak."
Foot believes the idea to merge the schools could have been approached much more positively, with an open and transparent process to genuinely gather community input before presenting options to the community at large.
He pointed to previous projects, such as the new Dundalk High and Sollers Point Technical High schools and the new Fleming Community Center, as examples of positive results coming from collaborative processes.
"(Baltimore County Executive) Kevin Kamenetz could take a lesson from (former County Executive) Jim Smith on how to engage the community in a collaborative process," Foot said.
Instead, he said, parents are left with the feeling that the U.S. Constitution and Maryland laws have been tossed aside in order to serve a privileged few.
Concerned residents are encouraged to attend Tuesday night's school board meeting, set for 6:30 p.m. at the school system's Greenwood Campus, 6901 Charles St. in Towson.