County school administrators have ordered Centennial High School to phase out a 13-year-old scheduling arrangement that gives students a chance to add classes in music, art or similar electives to their academic class load.
The school offers a seven-period day that lets students swap more class time in exchange for giving up their lunch breaks.
All other county high schools, except Wilde Lake, use a six-period day.
Wilde Lake has a flexible scheduling plan that permits students to fit fine-and practical-arts electives into their schedules and still meet state-mandated graduation requirements.
Student leaders and faculty at Centennial, which has often been cited for academic excellence, are fighting the administration's order. They're not being backed, however, by the school's parent-teacher-student association.
Student leaders plan to seek support from the Howard County Association of Student Councils to lobby the school board on the issue.
Teachers have voted in favor of continuing the seventh period and may meet with teachers' union leaders on the issue.
But Judy Butler, president of the Centennial PTSA, termed the phase-out "not an issue." She said the organization plans to press for a countywide seven-period day with lunch breaks. Other PTSAs in the county, under the aegis of the PTA Council of Howard County, are lobbying for a similar change, and the issue is a factor in the county's school board election in November.
"It wasn't really a seven-period day. It was just that a few students used their lunch periods to take an extra course," said Butler. "There really is not an issue about this particular phasing-out of students taking an extra period."
The order to phase out the seven-period day, starting with this school year, came in a memo from Daniel L. Jett, director of high schools, to Principal Sylvia S. Pattillo.
James R. McGowan, associate superintendent for instruction and school administration, cited class size, equity and health concerns as his and Jett's reasons for the decision to end the program.
Two other schools wanted to start a seventh period similar to Centennial's in this school year, McGowan said. Jett confirmed that the request had been made, but declined to identify the two schools.
McGowan added: "The question that gets set aside here is: 'Is it healthy for young people to eat lunch on the run that way?' Our conclusion was that it is not that healthy."
Phasing out the seventh period at Centennial won support from a majority of the school board after Board Chairman Karen B. Campbell brought it up for public discussion at the Sept. 13 meeting. Only outgoing board member Anne L. Dodd voiced reservation.
In the Centennial program, the school day is divided into seven 50-minute blocks, allowing students to fit practical and fine-arts electives into their schedules or to make up courses they have failed by skipping the lunch break.
This year, the extra class option was closed to ninth-graders in order to start a gradual elimination of the seventh period that will be in full effect in four years.
Enthusiasm for the seventh-period option runs high among students who have taken additional classes.
"Basically, our entire school is for it," said Burke Drane, a junior who is Centennial's representative to the school board.
Drane said some students want the extra course, and others feel that although it doesn't effect them, they favor keeping the option for those who want it.
"I'm really upset. It will really mess up the music department," said junior Marie Teeters, who took advantage of the option to add two music classes to her schedule this year.
Sophomore Tina Wang decided at the start of this school year, "I didn't want lunch, so I took madrigals."
Music instructors shorten the class period to allow a 15- to 20-minute lunch break, the students said.
Many students who take seventh-period classes that cannot be shortened get teachers' permission to eat bag lunches in class. The principal said she has made every effort to ensure that students are able to eat lunch.
Pattillo confirmed that the music program will be most severely affected by elimination of the seventh period. Of the 163 students who took extra courses in the last school year, 81 were in music classes, she said.
Junior Jodi Stanleigh said she believed that students who don't take a seventh period like the long lunch break, but she conceded that classes are crowded.
"It's like, if you fall behind, you fall behind," she said.
Sophomore Timothy Lord said the question is "not whether people should take seven periods, but whether they should have a choice." Lord plans to finish his math requirements early so he can use the seventh-period option to take more college preparatory courses.
The number of Centennial students who signed up for a seventh period has grown rapidly since the state education department increased graduation requirements in 1985, high schools director Jett said.