Judge backs school board's OK of French program in Crofton

November 05, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County school board did nothing improper when it started a French language immersion pilot program last year at Crofton Woods Elementary School, a state judge has found.

Administrative Law Judge Michael J. Wallace recommended in a 28-page proposed opinion that the state school board dismiss a Crofton woman's challenge to the program, now in its second year.

The record of the case "fails to support" the argument of Laure Cruz, a Crofton parent who alleged that the board "failed to properly follow established parliamentary procedure" when it created the program, Wallace wrote in an opinion signed last week.

The opinion goes to the state school board, where members could hear closing arguments from Cruz and Anne Arundel school officials as early as the board's December meeting.

Cruz has filed an objection to Wallace's proposed opinion with state education officials. She said she wants the board to "think about the precedent they are setting if they allow parent groups to buy curriculum."

In her appeal, Cruz cited several irregularities in the local board's vote July 13, 1995, to create the program.

At first, French immersion died on a 4-3 vote; five votes are needed for approval. Later in the day, however, board member Michael A. Pace resurrected the idea and won permission for the Crofton Woods program to proceed if the school system could raise $20,000 from the private sector.

He contributed $10,000 from his own pocket, outraging French immersion opponents. A school board ethics panel found no ethical violation, but recommended avoiding future appearances of impropriety.

Cruz said the second board vote was contrary to procedural rules and questioned the propriety of using private money to pay for program materials. She said the vote should be invalidated because required tape recordings of that part of the meeting either were conveniently blank or of poor quality. In addition, she argued that school officials did not develop a separate curriculum for French.

But Wallace said the local board was within its rights to reconsider its first vote. The question about the tape would not invalidate the vote, he wrote. He accepted school officials' testimony that a separate curriculum was unnecessary.

Language immersion programs are more than two decades old, but Anne Arundel County decided only in 1995 to experiment with one, starting it in kindergarten and adding a grade each year. Thirty children each in kindergarten and first grade are participating this year, said Crofton Woods Principal Peter Zimmer.

Pub Date: 11/05/96

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