MCPS budget woes forcing 10-year-olds into select middle schools

DAMASCUS, Md. (WJLA) - Some Montgomery County parents are upset their 9- and 10-year-olds will soon be shipped off to middle school for an accelerated math class.

Last year, a group of fourth-grade students at Damascus Elementary School enrolled in the two-year advanced mathematics course. At the time, the group had its own teacher within the tight-knit elementary school. However, recent budget cuts have forced a big change.

In May, MCPS administrators announced the course would shift from Damascus Elementary to nearby Baker Middle School. Consequently, come next month, enrolled students will now have to wake up nearly 90 minutes earlier, as middle schools commence at 7:55 a.m., compared to 9:15 a.m. for elementary schools.

"I was very disappointed," mother Lee Derrick said. "It's just not right. They don't belong there."

Derrick's 10-year-old son, Devin Seek, enrolled in the gifted math class last year as a fourth grader.

"It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Knowing what I know now though, I never would have signed him up," Derrick added.

Devin, who's more interested in building Legos than relationships with ladies, isn't excited about roaming packed hallways with teenagers.

"I'm pretty upset; I do not want to go to the middle school, because we won't really fit in and we're going to get picked on," Devin said.

A group of parents, including Derrick, shared its concerns with the principal at Damascus Elementary and the Montgomery County Board of Education, but to no avail.

"He's [Devin's] already halfway through fifth-grade math. If he drops out of the program, he starts back at the beginning of fifth-grade math. So, the first half of the year will be all review; he won't be learning anything new," Derrick remarked.

However, if Devin stays enrolled, the earlier wake-up call means he'll have to sacrifice piano lessons and programming club, both of which meet weekday mornings before elementary school commences.

"It's just not fair to him, or the other students," Derrick added. "They were told that it was going to stay in their school. It was a verbal promise, it was not written down, but it was a promise nonetheless."

In a written statement, school spokesman Dana Tofig said:

"To make sure staff is allocated efficiently, [accelerated math] classes are sometimes offered at a middle school and students from more than one elementary school will attend the classes. That is the case in this instance. There are a small number of students from Damascus ES and some from other Damascus area elementary schools that will receive accelerated instruction at Baker Middle School. The students can take the morning bus to the middle school for the class, which is offered first period, and then will be taken by bus to their home school. This is done districtwide—and in other districts—and has been for years. Many parents have expressed to us that they are pleased that the district is finding a way to offer accelerated instruction in an efficient, effective manner."

"So, because they do it someplace else then it's OK? My answer is, 'No, it's not OK.’ Just because they do it somewhere else, that doesn't make it right," Derrick concluded.