Revising the county’s five-year school capital improvement plan to include Buckingham Elementary was a procedural step needed before officially asking the state to reconsider denial of funding support for a new school. The state’s decision-making body will now meet next month to take another look at the recent decision to not allocate state funds to the project. The fact the Interagency Commission for School Construction (IAC) was willing to reconsider the status of the project is viewed as encouraging by local officials. The reconsideration and request to revise the capital improvement plan came after a meeting between the IAC and Senator Mary Beth Carozza in October.
It appears the key point in the Buckingham Elementary School’s controversy is whether Berlin Intermediate School should be considered an “adjacent school.” In his letter to Commission President Chip Bertino, Superintendent of schools Lou Taylor wrote, “The IAC is going to review and re-consider the status of Berlin Intermediate School as a Buckingham Elementary “adjacent school.” Should the IAC determine that Berlin Intermediate is not a Buckingham adjacent school, state funding would be available for the Buckingham project.” It’s an interesting situation. Berlin Intermediate School (BIS) is home to fifth and sixth graders currently, serving as a collection point for elementary students for Buckingham, Showell and Ocean City elementary schools. The school is a mile away from Buckingham, but that should not qualify it as an adjacent school. For many years, BIS hosted fourth graders from Showell Elementary due to overcrowding at the old building. It was not an ideal arrangement and resulted in BIS being overcrowded. The message BIS should not host one school’s fourth grade must be articulated to the state. Transferring the fourth grade from Buckingham to Berlin Intermediate is not a long-range solution and it’s not best for the students.
As an aside, this week’s commissioners meeting packet included 10-year enrollment projections for the entire school system. Total enrollment for the school system is projected to grow by 4% from 6,933 this year to 7,185 in 2032. For Buckingham alone, the growth is more dramatic, projecting to expand enrollment by 18% from 516 in fiscal year 2024 to 610 in 2032.
As has been the case recently, the night meetings of the Worcester County Board of Education continue to draw many public comments. This week’s meeting featured praise and support for schools and educators as well as general concerns, such as the need for summer academies to continue. Many speakers focused their specific and organized comments on books they deem as inappropriate in school libraries. The books seemingly being targeted deal specifically with LGBTIQA+ issues. While it’s one thing to express concerns over inappropriate reading materials, there were many scathing comments alleging “indoctrination” of students by educators pushing liberal messages about general and alternative lifestyles. The comments struck a nerve with Treston Melvin, a Board of Education student representative of Pocomoke High School. In asking the address the board as the last public commenter, Melvin became emotional showing support for openness and acceptance in public schools.
“I would like to say as a student I am appalled by the things I have heard tonight. I am hurt and I can say every student over there is hurt too. If we as a community are focused on education, why aren’t we listening to the students who are hurting, who are crying over what you guys are saying. I am sick and tired of you talking about indoctrination just because people want to live freely. I am sick and I am tired,” Melvin said. “I can see why some of you want evening meetings because these people will be here. Because you get the people who hate. I am a student. I am a human. I was sexually assaulted at 15 years old and “All Boys Aren’t Blue’, that book to someone who was like me that saved my life. … you need to listen to the students. Do you see how hurt and appalled we are? Please look at the people, look at the students who are in front of you. You have to see that we are in pain because the people we have to fight are the people who say they love us and are here for us. I want to encourage you as the Board of Education to please fight for us because what they want is not what is best for us. I promise you I would not come here and be in tears … do you know how embarrassing this is? I am embarrassed to be this vulnerable right now., I don’t do this, but I am embarrassed. We need to be heard.”
After all the public comments and later in the meeting, Board of Education member Dr. Jon Andes, former county school superintendent, made a suggestion on the book ban conversation. He suggested the school system consider creating “an adjustment to the policy” to have media specialists create an older teen collection for the “cringe factor” books. The collection would only be available to students who have parental permission. “Parents would have the final choice,” he said.
This is a suggestion worthy of consideration, representing an expansion of what the school system currently provides as far as parents being able to prohibit their kids from checking out specific books. The issue there is parents do not know all the books in the respective libraries. It’s the concept of opting out vs. opting in. Placing the books that have been identified as concerning in their own location and requiring permission to view may be a suitable effort to address the book concerns, which are being heard across the country these days.