Driver's Ed May Hit The Skids

Lorton Recommends Students Pay For Class

January 12, 1992|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff writer

There will be no more free ride for driver's education in the county, if the Board of Education agrees tomorrow with a recommendation by School Superintendent Larry L. Lorton.

In a cost-saving move, Lorton has recommended that the driver's education program be sliced, saving the county about $1.2 million next year.

Driver's education is now offered free to about 3,200 students annually. Under the superintendent's proposal, it would be offered after school for a fee "as a service to students," said Dr. Cheryl H. Wilhoyte, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction and School Administration.

Although the move would save money, several questions, including who would teach the course, how much it would cost students and whether the quality of the program would suffer, remain unanswered, Wilhoyte said.

Board members are divided.

Board president Jo AnnTollenger and member Tom Twombly have expressed support for the move, saying in tough economic times, it is not unreasonable to ask students to pay for driver's ed.

But other members are not so sure thatshort-term fiscal benefits are worth jeopardizing long-term student safety.

Board member Nancy Gist said a lot of information covered in the county's semester-long course might not be covered in an after-school driver's training program. She's not sure, given the complexity of county roads, whether an after-school program would adequately prepare students, she said.

"I can see the fiscally responsible thing would be to offer this after school and on Saturdays" and charge students, she said. "But there's another thing, the responsible citizen part of me, that thinks we should continue to offer the course."

The board will vote tomorrow on whether to support Lorton's proposal. In 1982, then-Superintendent Edward J. Anderson suggested droppingdriver's education, but strong opposition from parents and board members helped save the program.

Driver's education, which was first offered at two county schools in 1952, was offered for credit at all county high schools by the early 1970s. In Maryland, all drivers younger than 18 are required to pass a driver's education course to get adriver's license. Teen-agers 18 and older can get a license without taking a course.

Under the current county system, students spend 96 hours in the classroom, including 12 hours of simulated driving, for one-half credit. They must spend three hours behind the wheel as well, which is completed after school.

Under the non-credit version,students would take both the classes and driving portion after school. State requirements call for a minimum of 30 hours of classroom time, along with 12 hours simulation and three hours behind the wheel.

The fee probably would range from $100 to $150, Wilhoyte said, depending on whether the county continues getting a $45 reimbursement perstudent from the state.

Of the counties that continue to offer driver's education, most now charge for the course, Wilhoyte said. Somecounties, such as Howard, no longer offer driver's education.

Although the charge might be a hardship for some students, Wilhoyte said, she is unsure whether the school system would offer tuition waivers, since driver's education is not required under state education guidelines for graduation.

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