The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

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April 21, 2024

MCPS will not provide transportation to Whitman for accepted LASJ students

After+manufacturing+and+testing+the+pilot+mobile+application%2C+MCPS+discovered+vulnerabilities+within+the+system.+%0A
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After manufacturing and testing the pilot mobile application, MCPS discovered vulnerabilities within the system.

MCPS will not transport prospective 2024-25 LASJ students to Whitman, according to the tentative operating budget proposed by the Board of Education on Feb. 22.

LASJ — the Leadership Academy for Social Justice — debuted in the 2020-2021 school year as a cross-curricular program encouraging activism and leadership among students. The program plans to expand to county-wide enrollment for the 2024-2025 school year, allowing ninth graders across the county to apply to the program. Accepted students will take a full day of classes at Whitman and choose from various LASJ courses to take as well.

Students from across the county will bring diverse and valuable perspectives to discussions about social justice, leading to richer conversations, said LASJ Lead Teacher Sheryl Freedman.

LASJ is an interest-based program that uses a lottery to select students to join. Principal Robert Dodd wanted the admission process to reflect the values of equal opportunity and accessibility, but he believes the lack of transportation goes against these values. Freedman thinks the budget process should uphold equity.

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“It’s supposed to be a choice-based program,” Freedman said. “Students are applying because they want to be part of social justice or come to Whitman in general. We’re not really offering that. It seems like it’s just on paper at this point.”

The expiration of the third and final phase of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds — a federal grant providing funding to public schools for relief from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic — means MCPS must find funding for programs through other means this coming fiscal year. During the Feb. 22 Board Business Meeting, the Board adopted the FY25 operating budget, where several Board members said the county would have to make difficult funding decisions given the tight budget. Board member Brenda Wolff argued that MCPS could not fund more transportation, while Lynn Harris expressed more optimism. Dodd emphasized that equity should always be a top priority, even when the budget is tight.

“It’s impossible to see the future with transportation when the resources needed for programs across MCPS can change year to year based on the budget,” Dodd said. “Ensuring equity can involve resources, and when resources are scarce, too often it seems that equity is sacrificed.”

Dodd is working with LASJ leadership to push the county to include transportation for the program in the budget. The County Council will deliberate the FY25 budget with the community in the upcoming months before finalizing it on June 1. Whitman will continue to advocate for transportation until the county finalizes the budget, Assistant Principal Gregory Miller said.

Previously, MCPS has provided transportation for application-based programs like the STEM magnet program at Montgomery Blair High School, so Dodd expected MCPS to provide transportation for LASJ. He was disappointed and surprised to learn that it would not, he said.

On Feb. 22, Whitman junior Sofia Antonioli testified to the Board to fund transportation for LASJ students. Antonioli spoke about the program’s importance in bridging the county’s socioeconomic gaps, a product in part due to redlining, which discriminated against communities of color until its ban in 1968. In her testimony, Antonioli said that the decision not to provide transportation would particularly hurt prospective students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, countering LASJ’s core principles of identity, diversity, justice and action.

“Not enough energy has been put into making this program as accessible and equitable as it should be — a reality that runs counter to the program’s very principles,” Antonioli said in her testimony.

Parents and students involved in the program are advocating for the Board and county to provide funding for transportation and staffing for the program, Freedman said. Miller also stressed the importance of community activism, a core value of LASJ.

“We have phenomenal young people who are extremely passionate about making a lasting impact,” Miller said. “I’m proud of our students and the work that they’re doing to advocate for this.”

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