Expand technology magnet program to Oakland Mills High, board urged Decision would reverse ruling limiting it

panel tightens tobacco policy

October 24, 1997|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

The technology magnet program should be expanded to Oakland Mills High School next school year, a school official recommended at last night's school board meeting.

If approved, the expansion would reverse a Howard County school board decision earlier this year to limit the program to two schools.

Also last night, the board approved a toughened policy against tobacco use that will allow administrators to expel students caught smoking or using other tobacco products more than three times.

An expansion of the technology magnet would begin with one course for Oakland Mills freshmen in fall 1998 and would grow by adding courses for the next three years until all grade levels are included, said Eugene Streagle, instructional coordinator in charge of high schools.

125 slots could result

Expansion would create as many as 125 slots for students at a first-year cost of about $260,000, he said.

"We certainly recommend all that has been brought forward today," Marshall Peterson, Oakland Mills principal, said at the board meeting. "This has our full support, and we are very appreciative."

The board will vote on the proposed expansion at its Nov. 13 meeting.

The technology magnet program -- begun in the 1996-1997 school year at Long Reach and River Hill high schools for students of all abilities -- teaches high-technology skills through teamwork and hands-on application of technology.

Lottery system set up

When it began, the board initially set aside Oakland Mills for a possible third school but in February rejected expanding the program, which had more applicants than it could accommodate. The board instead set up a a controversial lottery system to fill the 120 or so available spots.

This year, expansion is again being considered because the program initially was set up to offer specialized technological instruction to all interested students, school officials said.

The toughened tobacco policy approved by the board will deter student use through a series of student-parent-administrator meetings, special courses and suspensions, school officials said.

Under the toughened policy, effective in January:

All ninth-graders must take a health class unit on the dangers of using tobacco products.

A student caught smoking the first time will have to attend a Saturday class on smoking cessation and management and discuss the problem in a conference with parents and school administrators.

Students who don't tell their parents about being caught or don't attend the Saturday class could be suspended for as many as five days.

Students caught smoking a second time must have another conference, complete a weekslong series of classes related to smoking and could be suspended for as many as 10 days.

After a third violation, students will repeat the punishments for a second offense and could face up to 30 days' suspension.

Under current policy, students cannot be threatened with expulsion until the fifth tobacco-related offense.

Smoke-filled bathrooms

Board members have discussed changes to the policy for several months in response to complaints that smoking in Howard schools was increasing. In March, a group of Centennial High School students testified that the bathrooms in the school were so smoke-filled that nonsmoking students could not use them.

Last night, much of the talk did not concern details of the policy, which had been worked out in discussions beginning this summer, but rather the title of the classes that violators must take.

A draft policy called them smoking management classes, but at least one board member balked because the name included no reference to nonsmokable tobacco.

Also, "management" seemed to imply that school officials would tolerate tobacco use rather than mandate that it be stopped altogether, said board member Stephen Bounds.

"Calling it a management class, that has the connotation of working with it as opposed to stopping it," Bounds said. "I just don't like the message that sends."

Policy approved 4-1

The board approved the policy 4-1, with Bounds casting the dissenting vote because of the "management" terminology. The board agreed that the issue should be worked out.

Also last night, the board agreed to submit a request to the county's state legislative delegation for a 33 percent salary increase for board members, from $9,000 to $12,000 a year. The chairman of the board earns an extra $1,000.

The board also agreed that some provision should be made to address the issue of salary on a regular basis, perhaps once every three years.

The board did not vote on the issue.

School board salaries have not been raised for three years, and the last raise came after 10 years of no increases, board members said. Three years ago, board members received a 50 percent increase.

"Frankly, I think a 10 percent raise when we've been trying to catch up for 10 years is not sufficient," said board member Karen Campbell.

"It is not reflective of what the board does, whether that's me or anyone else," she said. "I really think the work done by this board is worth $1,000 a month."

Pub Date: 10/24/97

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