Father knows best? School promotion: Parent's battle with Howard County can't be at teen-ager's expense.

September 04, 1997

A NORTH LAUREL FATHER suing the Howard County Board of Education to keep his son from being promoted to high school is reopening the debate festering throughout education circles about whether children are being moved to higher grades before they are ready.

In the case of Robert H. Merriman IV, who was in the eighth grade at Hammond Middle last year, the most important thing is that the parent and administrators resolve the matter quickly. The 14-year-old's father is seeking a temporary injunction in Howard County Circuit Court to keep his child in middle school.

At this point, however, the legal system is not the place to resolve this dispute.

Mr. Merriman sued the school board, asking the court to block his son's promotion. Robert, who has a learning disability, has struggled with schoolwork.

Mr. Merriman believes his son is not ready for more rigorous courses in high school. Many parents can sympathize with his concerns. But county schools usually designate "teams" of teachers, counselors and administrators to work with children in special education programs. These teams meet with parents of special education students to develop learning plans that are designed specifically for each child. Students benefit when teams and parents are on the same page.

The outcome of meetings involving Mr. Merriman and Hammond Middle team members was not disclosed publicly, but the school's principal complied with the father's wishes to retain his child in middle school. His decision was reversed by school administrators. Mr. Merriman responded by filing his lawsuit.

Whether schools promote students prematurely to fatten their graduation rates is a subject of great debate in school systems far beyond Howard County, but there is no evidence that Robert's case was dictated by such pressure.

Unfortunately, the result of this stalemate between parent and bureaucracy means that Robert spends school days sitting at home watching television until his father returns from work to teach him math. While the debate on the school system's promotion policy is worth discussing, the first order of business must be to get Robert back into class.

Pub Date: 9/04/97

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