About 150 Dundalk residents and school children attended a meeting Monday night at Holabird Middle School that addressed the futures of three Dundalk schools.
Parents said they were notified of the meeting late last week and were given little information as to what it was about.
The meeting was called to discuss a potential reorganization of Eastwood Elementary Magnet, Norwood Elementary and Holabird Middle schools.
At its end, some parents thought school officials delivered mixed messages.
School system Deputy Superintendent Kevin Hobbs told those gathered that no school was being closed, but parents said they heard something completely different.
"Nothing's being shut down, nothing's being lost, we're not losing a school," Hobbs told the crowd. "We'll still have three schools; where they're located, how they're configured, how they interact with each other" remains to be determined.
But after two possible plans were shared with the audience, it seems that Eastwood Elementary disappears. The building will close and the name will no longer be used.
The first plan discussed with parents calls for the creation of the Holabird STEM Academy, a K-8 school that would concentrate on course work in science, technology, engineering and math. All three schools would merge to create the new academy.
The academy would exist in two buildings—the current Norwood and Holabird schools—with pre-k through third grade in the Lower School at the elementary building and grades four through eight in the Upper School at the middle school building.
The second option calls for the creation of Holabird STEM Academy by merging Eastwood and Holabird and housing all K-8 students in the middle school building.
In that option, Norwood Elementary would remain a pre-k-8 school—in its own building—with a focus on STEM courses.
In both scenarios, the Eastwood building would be abandoned and the school now known as Eastwood would cease to exist.
While the principals of all three affected schools praised the abundance of opportunities that will be available to students because of the merger, parents were emotional about the decisions and angry about the lack of notice and opportunity to participate in the decision-making process.
Dan and Tammy Ricci, the parents of Eastwood first-grader Rachel, aren't happy about losing a school and magnet program they believe their daughter has benefited from.
"It's just unfair that they hit us over the head with closing our school," Dan Ricci said. "They basically told us, 'It's closing, get over it, let's move forward.'"
Administrators keep referring to everything about the merger as "opportunities," he said, but he sees lots of drawbacks as well.
Both parents said Eastwood's magnet program is "excellent," and they referred to Eastwood as a "hidden gem" of a school.
Tammy Ricci said she has concerns about the broad mix of student ages in one building, as well as children from ages 4 to 14 potentially riding the same bus.
During the meeting, a question-and-answer session brought up many concerns, including where funding will come from to pay for new and additional technology, how busing will be handled, what new programs and opportunities will exist and what will happen to the Eastwood property.
If Eastwood is declared surplus property, the school system will turn the deed over to Baltimore County government, which will then decide how to utilize or dispose of it. One possibility for the land being discussed is to use it to build a new police precinct for Dundalk.
Monday's meeting was a short and to-the-point gathering to share with parents the decision-making process so far and to invite them to participate in smaller meetings and focus groups that will be held at each affected school.
Parents will have a say in choosing the option selected, officials said; parent feedback will be taken into consideration before the final decision is made.
Some parents think that promise of participation is lip-service.
Eastwood PTA President Kim Barnhouser said the 186-student school is a close community.
"We're all very tight; I can tell you about all the kids at Eastwood," she said. "There are a lot of questions and I don't feel that we're getting any answers. Everything was already decided. It's a done deal."
Dan Ricci said he and his wife plan to be as involved as possible in the process as it plays out.
"When I wake up in the morning, I'm going to have a million questions," he said.
- School Reorganization Could Lead to New Police Precinct
- Hobbs: Dundalk School Reorganization Not Indicative of Countywide Trend
Patch Editor Nayana Davis contributed to this article.