Plan 3R was passed on January 12th, amid much drama and wrath of soccer moms. The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, in the meantime, expressed interest in suing the school district on behalf of the redistricted African-American students. Clearly, the board was faced with an impossible situation. You do have to wonder, though, if dividing Ardmore and Narberth was the best idea, as those areas have already felt slighted for decades: Back in the 1960s, Ardmore had its own elementary school, as did Narberth. Children could blithely walk to those schools without ever boarding a bus. Then the schools were closed for budget reasons, as was a onetime junior high in Ardmore, also within walking distance of many Ardmorians.
As of the January 12th meeting, parents are mad; Ardmore feels estranged; and some of the school board members are barely speaking to each other. And it appears only lawsuits can change the course of action now. The board, for its part, has mostly gone silent on the issue, perhaps wondering if it should have let Harriton just stay small.
SO FAR, NO dead squirrels have appeared in the redistricting battle, but you just know Lower Merion isn’t done with the issue yet. It’s not that kind of place: People in L.M. might forgive, but they don’t forget. Many of the Ardmore makeover protesters back in 2005 never actually shopped at the stores they bemoaned losing, but they still protested.
“I think the more educated you are, the more you’re used to getting what you want,” points out Joe Manko, an environmental attorney and former Lower Merion township commissioner who was involved in the Ardmore development. “I would say people are more argumentative and polarized than they used to be.” Indeed, already new buzz is being raised about a “unified slate” proposal for the upcoming school board primary in May that would have four pro-redistricting Democratic and Republican candidates running together as a sort of package deal, leaving only one board seat open to a candidate from Narberth or South Ardmore, neither of which currently has representation on the board.
More drama is insured with the election, and it can only be a matter of time till there’s talk of K-12 charter schools for Narberth and Ardmore. Sure, parents would be passing on the chance for their kids to attend the best public high schools in the state, but they’d be able to run the schools their way, and keep their communities intact. In fact, it’s hard to believe granola-ish Narberth hasn’t done this already. One can imagine a vegan cafeteria, meditation circles, and knitting classes in a bully-free, peanut-free model of education. (And, of course, everyone would walk there.) Take that, Lower Merion!
As for Penn Valley Mom #2, after months of angst, she’s trying to move on. “They’re both state-of-the-art, million-dollar high schools,” she says of Harriton and LMHS. “Even at my kid’s elementary school, I hear people say, ‘I want my kids to go to Harriton, I want them with the cream of the Main Line.’ Others say, ‘I want my kid to go to LMHS and be more down-to-earth.’ They’re all crazy,” she says simply. “All the schools are good.” At least, though, life in Lower Merion is never boring — there’s the beauty, the leafiness, the convenience, and the always impassioned people. For better and for worse.