Trivial transfers crowd Blair halls

April 25, 2002, midnight | By Stephen Wertheim | 18 years, 9 months ago

Guidance Resource Counselor Barbara Drumm compiles Blair's master schedule in a school that is at least 300 students over capacity and that Principal Phillip Gainous aptly describes as "bursting at the gills."

Recently, Drumm has watched the pressure on Blair's gills increase even more. Not only has MCPS allowed out-of-area students to transfer into Blair, but this year, she says, the county has granted transfers into Blair on looser standards. And if the county keeps allowing easily obtainable transfers, "we're in trouble," Drumm says simply.

Current MCPS regulations make the period of transfer requests, the county's "transfer season," more like bidding season on Blair's resources. What's more, the policy that the Board of Education approved Mar 12, to take effect next year, keeps the most harmful clauses intact.

Ironically, while the county's Residency Compliance Office seeks to remove students living outside Montgomery County borders, the county's transfer policy only loosely enforces Blair's own borders. By all rights, Blair should be closed to transfers. But Gainous recalls that in September, an influx of transfers seemed to negate efforts to withdraw illegally enrolled students. "It felt like as fast as we get the folks out, [MCPS is] allowing people to transfer in," he says.

The increase in transfers is due to an ill-considered rule adopted a few years ago but whose enforcement Gainous and Drumm started feeling this year. When students attend any of Blair's feeder schools—Eastern, Takoma Park or Silver Spring International middle schools—they can attend Blair regardless of their residence. In other words, MCPS regulations allow every one of these students to enroll in Blair classes next year.

While Drumm anticipates that the problem will grow worse, transfers already crowd Blair. She says that of the roughly 30 to 38 non-Magnet or non-CAP students that transfer to Blair annually, no more than ten have legitimate reasons to transfer. Illegitimately enrolled students therefore fill an extra classroom per year—"one less portable," notes social studies teacher Brian Hinkle, who reregisters Blair students.

If transferring students all had genuine hardships, their entry into Blair would be warranted. However, applicants with relatively trivial reasons continue to get transfers from county officials, whom Drumm says sometimes grant transfers unquestioningly.

One example she cites is a transfer approved this year because the student preferred Blair's block schedule to a regular schedule, hardly constituting the so-called "hardship" for which MCPS allows transfers. The much greater hardship is to Blair as its population rises.

Rather than automatically approving transfers between middle and high schools in the same feeder pattern, the county should review each student's reason so as to avoid invalid ones.

Given the county's disregard for Blair's situation, principals should have a say in whether students' reasons for transferring outweigh the burden of overcrowding. Otherwise, before the Downcounty Consortium begins in 2004, the county will find itself funding more portables.

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Stephen Wertheim. Co-editor-in-chief Stephen Wertheim is deeply committed to reporting, even when it conflicts with such essential life activities as food consumption, sleep and viewership of Seinfeld reruns. In addition to getting carried away with writing and playing violin, Stephen thoroughly enjoys visiting and photographing spots around … More »

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