Fairfax School Board to review initial draft of new boundary adjustment policy next month

FCPS Central Office in Falls Church (staff photo by James Jarvis)

Fairfax County Public School Board members have finalized a first draft of the division’s new boundary adjustment policy, which is scheduled for a full board review next month.

The major updates to the new policy mandate that the superintendent adhere to a specific set of criteria when drawing school boundary lines and require a county-wide review of school boundaries every five years.

The new draft policy, still subject to revisions, follows several months of discussion among school board members on the best approach to address overcrowding throughout the division.

The revised policy retains elements of the existing one, such as assigning students to schools based on proximity to their homes. However, under the proposed changes, when establishing new boundaries, the superintendent must ensure that schools have sufficient capacity for future students; avoid splitting students from the same neighborhood among different schools; minimize student travel times; and provide equal access to programming.

The superintendent may also consider additional factors when setting school boundaries, including the following.

  • Minimizing disruptions to teaching
  • Reducing reliance on temporary classrooms
  • Cutting future budget costs
  • Ensuring easy access to nearby neighborhoods
  • Enhancing family involvement
  • Maintaining long-term stability in school attendance zones

While these additional criteria are optional, At-large school board member Kyle McDaniel emphasized the superintendent must prioritize the first four.

“The biggest difference between the current policy and the new policy is this “may”/”shall” language,” he told FFXnow. “The old policy just had 14 criteria that had no priority or no ranking or no real intentional guidance to staff in terms of what the board would prioritize over other items.”

School board members have also updated the language in the old policy concerning the superintendent’s authority to make emergency boundary adjustments.

In cases of a “catastrophic event” or emergency, the superintendent has the authority to temporarily adjust school attendance areas without school board approval, provided the affected student population is less than 15%.

The superintendent must notify the school board of any adjustments, but a vote is not required unless the changes are expected to be permanent.

Board members also revised the section on expedited boundary adjustments, adding language that authorizes the superintendent to recommend such adjustments after consulting with the school board and conducting publicly-noticed meetings, should the following situations occur.

  • New unoccupied housing requires to students to be reassigned to prevent overcrowding
  • Adjust for transportation needs
  • Manage excess enrollment
  • Respond to program changes
  • Address school openings and closings
  • Address unexpected construction issues or delays

The policy also ensures that future boundary adjustments will be phased in, meaning high school students currently enrolled would not be forced to transfer.

If the board adopts the new policy, expected by June or July, it would likely not take effect until the next school year, according to McDaniel.