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As Arlington Rezones Schools, Communities Fight To Stay Together

In third grade, Natalia Otel Belan’s daughter was in a class at Patrick Henry Elementary School that encouraged students to befriend and work alongside classmates of different races and ethnicities.

[Arlington’s Patrick Henry Elementary named a National Blue Ribbon School]

It’s that appreciation for diversity and the school’s success with students of different backgrounds that Otel Belan and other parents say helped catapult the Northern Virginia school to national recognition. And it’s what they say would be lost if the Arlington School Board proceeds with a rezoning plan Thursday that would split Henry students between two schools when Henry closes.

Henry students are not the only ones who could be uprooted — the rezoning process involves eight elementary schools and is expected to affect nearly 700 students.

The months-long process, prompted by crowding and the opening of a new school, has awakened familiar complaints about separating young children from friends and increasing travel times to schools. Neighborhoods have clashed in public meetings and circulated competing­ petitions as parents lobby to keep their communities together.

Among Henry parents, the process has provoked claims of racial and economic segregation, underscoring the complicated dynamics that often factor into redrawing school boundaries throughout the nation.