New eastern high school floor plan wins approval 2nd elevator added to aid disabled

November 24, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

The Howard County school board last night unanimously approved a floor plan for the new eastern high school that would place physically disabled students on the second and third floors despite concerns they would have difficulties evacuating the building in an emergency.

It was the second time the proposed floor plan for the Long Reach high school -- under construction and set to open in 1996 -- came before the board.

In September, the board voiced concern for the safety of special education students, who would rely on one elevator to get to classes in the new school and on teachers and staff to carry them down stairwells in an emergency. The board told planners to come up with another plan.

Last night, planners told the board they added a second elevator in the school. And Associate Superintendent Sydney Cousin pointed out that the school was no different from nursing homes and hospitals in which safety routes must be planned to evacuate ambulatory residents and patients.

"I'm not going to argue with the experts," board member Susan Cook said. "However, I'm still uncomfortable about it.

"If I had a child in a wheelchair and [that child] had to depend on an elevator, I would not be happy," she said.

The school system is teaching disabled students to be independent, "yet they're going to be dependent on someone in case of a fire," Ms. Cook added.

But board member Linda Johnston differed. "I guess, in reality, we're preparing them for real-life situations," she said.

In other matters:

* The five-member board unanimously opposed state Sen. Christopher McCabe's bill to curb the school superintendent's power to transfer principals, assistant principals and guidance counselors.

Senator McCabe, a Republican, drafted the bill in response to Dr. Michael F. Hickey's wholesale transfer of administrative staff at Centennial and Mount Hebron high schools after the last school year. The bill would prohibit the superintendent from transferring 100 percent of a school's administrative team and would require the superintendent to justify to the community, board and school personnel a decision to move more than 50 percent of the staff.

The bill also would require the board to hold a public hearing on transfers if a school's PTA requests one. County lawmakers will discuss the bill on Dec. 1.

Board members said the bill was intrusive. "He hasn't thought it through," board member Deborah Kendig said. "This would require a public process for every transfer . . . which I think would be a horrendous invasion of privacy."

She and other members were concerned that administrators or guidance counselors who request transfers would have to disclose the reason. "The upshot of that is the board still wouldn't have any power to affect [the superintendent's decision]," Ms. Kendig said.

* A public hearing on a proposal to establish a standard of conduct for school employees drew only one speaker -- James R. Swab, head of the Howard County Education Association, the teachers union. The proposal would make it a violation for an employee to use profanity, assault or defame another based on that person's race, sex, religion, physical or mental disability, national origin, cultural identity, sexual orientation or socio-economic status.

An employee who violates the policy would be reprimanded and would have to undergo mandatory counseling.

Mr. Swab was concerned that the proposal had no provision to notify employees who are suspected of violating the policy.

Associate Superintendent James McGowan said he would check into the issue before the board votes on it on Dec. 9.

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