Bureaucratic 'nightmare' hits George Fox 8th grade

February 02, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

An article in The Sun's Arundel County editions yesterday reported an incorrect trial date for Charles A. Yocum, a Northeast High School teacher charged with child abuse. The trial is scheduled for March 22.

The Sun regrets the error.

An order to stop the transfer of eighth-graders from George Fox Middle School to Northeast Senior High School may have "serious consequences" for countywide redistricting plans, Anne Arundel County school officials said yesterday.

"It could be a nightmare," said Michael K. Raible, director of planning and construction for the county's public schools.

The concern arises from the state Board of Education's ruling last week that the eighth-graders can't be transferred without a public hearing on the specific proposal.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"We had a public hearing at Northeast on the superintendent's recommendation to move the eighth-graders to Chesapeake Bay Middle, and out of that came the public's suggestion to move the children temporarily to Northeast," said Mr. Raible. "We had a public hearing."

But last week's ruling held that the county board did not follow its own procedures and "acted unlawfully."

"The state board finding indicates not that they have to go through the whole procedure [again], but that they have to hold a hearing on the Northeast proposal," said Ronald A. Peiffer, a spokesman for the State Board of Education. "They could do that quickly and move on. This is a very narrow ruling. They missed a step in the procedure."

Parents in the schools that "feed" into Northeast High had challenged the county's decision, arguing they were left out of the discussion.

"It's true that moving the eighth grade in the short term would solve the problem at George Fox, but it was going to make another mess of Northeast High School," said Richard A. Davis, who led 100 other parents in filing the appeal. "If they'd moved the eighth grade, it would have turned Northeast into the most overcrowded high school in the county as a way of relieving the middle school overcrowding."

Mr. Raible pointed out, however, that Mr. Davis had served on dTC the so-called "Ugly Alternatives Committee," a task force that examined the use of school buildings and listed among the alternatives the suggestion that George Fox eighth-graders be moved to Northeast.

There also was a public hearing Feb. 25, 1993, at which the Northeast solution was brought up by parents. The school board staff later sought to amend the superintendent's recommendation and send children not to Chesapeake Bay Middle, but to Northeast. The school board accepted the revised recommendation and voted April 21 to approve the transfer for September 1994.

"It would be most unwieldy and impractical," wrote Kenneth S. Watson, an administrative law judge who heard the case on behalf of the state board and recommended the county school board's decision be affirmed, "to require the board to reinvoke the public briefing/public hearing process each time it wishes to consider a proposal to revise the superintendent's recommendation."

But the state board rejected that recommendation. Because the move to Northeast was not included in then-Superintendent C. Berry Carter II's recommendations and was not advertised as a topic to be commented upon during public hearings, the state board ruled that a new hearing should be held.

"There's nothing prohibiting the school board from going to a hearing with multiple proposals," Mr. Peiffer said. "That's what the ruling means in this case. Unless the new idea was one of the original proposals put in front of the group on public hearings, they'd have to have a separate public hearing. Anne Arundel's procedures are very specifically laid out."

The ruling still doesn't resolve what is to be done about overcrowding at George Fox Middle, a school built to hold 844 students.

County school planners say the projected enrollment for the school this fall is 1,041 students. "There's one portable there now," said Mr. Raible. "We estimate that with the eighth grade staying in the school, there will be four more relocatables. This is a building that was [last renovated and enlarged] in 1989." But Mr. Davis, chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee for Riviera Beach Elementary School, one of the schools that feeds into George Fox, said the main issue for him was that Northeast would soon be overcrowded.

"Whether they want to have a public hearing now, or just include it in redistricting, I don't know," he said. "Maybe they'll just wait while they look at the whole county. I don't know if the school board would have the nerve to go to public hearings with their plan now."

One of the county's smallest high schools, with a capacity of 1,200 students, Northeast suffered through an abysmal 1993 that saw three of its teachers brought up on child sexual abuse charges. One, Ronald Walter Price, went on national television to say he had had sexual relations with seven students. He blamed the school system, saying officials knew he had a problem but did nothing.

Price is serving a 21-year prison sentence. A second teacher, Laurie S. Cook, was cleared of charges in December and is awaiting word on whether she can return to the school. The third, Charles A. Yocum, is scheduled to go on trial later this month.

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