FOREST HEIGHTS — Forest Heights Elementary School confirmed at a community meeting to discuss with parents their transition plan to move all of their students into John Hanson Montessori School for the upcoming school year on Aug. 26.
According to Forest Heights Principal Peter Thompson, during a capital improvement project about two weeks ago as windows and doors were being replaced, it was discovered that part of the building was structurally unsound and would need additional repairs. The school felt it was in their best interest to relocate until the renovation is complete.
“Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) is committed to providing a safe and secure learning environment for our scholars each day,” Thompson said.
Starting on the first day of school on Sept. 3, all of the students at Forest Heights Elementary School will be moved into John Hanson Montessori School for the entirety of the school year. Thompson emphasized that the school will continue to run as if they were in their own building.
Their school schedule will remain the same. As Forest Heights begins and ends two hours earlier than John Hanson, Thompson said this will ensure that their day runs smoother while in the other school. Forest Heights students will continue to wear their school uniform to distinguish between the John Hanson students who do not wear a uniform.
Transportation will be provided for every student to John Hanson and additional routes will be provided for students who normally walk to school. Free breakfast and lunch will still be provided and daycare will be provided for local daycare centers that have supported Forest Heights over the years.
The transition process began on Aug. 14 when Thompson met with PGCPS officials to share safety concerns and the school moved quickly afterwards communicating with school staff and stakeholders, visiting the classrooms at John Hanson and moving in their equipment over the next few days.
“This is a safety issue,” Thompson said. “We just discovered this and talked about it about a week and a half ago. So all of this has been accelerated over the last week and a half.”
While in John Hanson, the Forest Heights students will not be mixed with John Hanson students. Forest Heights students will be strategically placed in a separate section in the 13 classrooms given to them by John Hanson. They will have rooms in the basement and first and second floor with staff on each floor.
Certain grade levels will have to be in combined classrooms. Classrooms will have, at most, 40 students and those that are combined will have two teachers, according to Thompson. The combined schools will bring about 800 students into John Hanson this year; 500 from John Hanson and 300 from Forest Heights.
“We are going to be Forest Heights housed at John Hanson,” Thompson said. “We are going to have the same curriculum that we’ve had for the last umpteen years. We are just sharing the space because that was the closest and most affordable and convenient option for the school year.”
The parents at the meeting had a lot of concerns and raised many questions during the meeting such as combining two different types of schools as John Hanson is a Montessori school and a K-8 school. PGCPS describes the Montessori program as an “interdisciplinary, discovery-based approach to learning presented in multi-age learning environments designed to meet the needs of the child at each stage of development.”
Parents also worried about overcrowding, busses arriving on time and students being able to adjust to the transition, especially kindergarten students and sixth graders who will have to move again to Oxon Hill Middle School next year.
Some parents asked if there was another option for them, such as putting their child in a different school. According to PGCPS Associate Superintendent for Elementary Schools Rasandra Lassiter, students cannot change their school due to the way boundaries for the school district are arranged.
“When you think about boundaries, that’s based on making such schools aren’t overcrowded and that you actually have the space and capacity for them to be in that building and to learn,” Lassiter said.
Mika Mahoney, a parent at Forest Heights Elementary School, said the whole situation is “crazy.”
“Nothing is in place,” she said. “Everything is being put into place so it’s going to be a full mess. You tell us it’s going to be a half year, now we’re hearing it’s going to be a full year…So it’s like when were they going to tell us and it’s like, the week before school.”
The timing of the announcement was a concern for Mahoney and other parents in the room, such as Monica McNeil.
“Whatever damage should have been found earlier. We’re trying to scramble one week before school starts and we’re talking elementary children that are now going to be combined with a school that has up to eighth grade,” McNeil said.
Thompson told the parents that he and the staff realize this an inconvenience to them and their children, however, the safety of the staff and students would be at risk if they remain in their current building.
“Me being a parent with an 8-year-old that’s going to the third grade, I mean, he’s used to being in one situation so now he’s supposed to be in a whole other environment and that’s going to be overwhelming on him,” Mahoney said. “It’s just a mess, just a complete mess.”