Revised class scheduling criticized Change to limit access of some at Wilde Lake to elective courses

Parents, students cry foul

Officials say policy will end abuse, tighten academic standards

February 11, 1998|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Students' access to elective courses at Columbia's Wilde Lake High School will be sharply restricted next year under proposed new scheduling guidelines -- and some parents, teachers and students are mobilizing to protest the move.

At a PTA meeting Monday attended by more than 200, many decried the changes which would bar all freshmen from taking extra elective courses, restricting access to sophomores, juniors and seniors enrolled in honors classes.

"You can have a student in a class labeled as 'gifted and talented' getting a C, but a student in a regular class getting an A is restricted [from taking some electives]," said Joel Aber, parent of a Wilde Lake senior, sparking applause at the meeting. "I consider that highly discriminatory and probably illegal."

School officials insist the changes -- announced in a letter to parents last week -- will help eliminate abuse and tighten academic standards.

"This is a tremendous misunderstanding," Roger Plunkett, Wilde Lake's principal, said yesterday. "It's a minor change. What's happened is that people are reacting very negatively to change and hitting the panic button. None of this is set in stone."

Plunkett said he will begin a series of meetings with school department leaders today to get their views on the new schedules. Plunkett, who was unable to attend the Monday meeting because he was leading a student trip to Florida, will talk with parents at a regularly scheduled meeting Feb. 21, he said.

Currently, Wilde Lake students take as many as six classes a day, four of which are usually filled by core courses such as English and math. Students may take electives during the remaining two periods per day. These options will not change under the new plan.

What will change is so-called supervised study -- commonly referred to as "supe" study -- that now allows students to opt out of core courses two days a week to fit in additional electives. Students who don't opt for such electives stay in core classes for review and extra instruction.

Proponents of the current schedule, which has been in use for about 20 years, say it allows an unusual amount of flexibility: Students often are able to fit into their schedules advanced instruction in such subjects as music and drama.

Restricting additional access to those subjects to honors students bothers many of the protesters.

"I cannot agree with nor do I condone the obvious disregard by our administration of the fact that, although someone may be deemed regular or remedial academically, he or she may be brilliant artistically or athletically," O'Lisa Cofield Aber, a Wilde 44 Lake senior, told the Howard County school board last week after the changes were announced.

But Plunkett said that some students -- and teachers -- often use supe study to skirt work. Students may enroll in gym or do homework instead of pushing themselves academically, he said.

"There is tremendous abuse on the part of staff and students," Plunkett said. "This will tighten that up."

To revamp the schedule, officials surveyed teachers and formed an Alternate Scheduling Committee this year.

After considering several different types of schedules, the committee revised the current program: Starting in the fall, ninth-grade students will not have the supe study option, nor will 10th-, 11th- or 12th-grade students not enrolled in Gifted and Talented, Advanced Placement or Honors classes.

About 30 to 35 percent of students fall into those categories, Plunkett estimated.

"The ninth-grade options will be very limited," Assistant Principal Rick Wilson said at Monday's meeting. "This was a philosophical decision made by the administration."

Plunkett said that the performance of Wilde Lake's students shows the need for the stricter regulations, noting that in coming years, rigorous high school tests required for graduation are expected to be implemented.

More than 240 of Wilde Lake's 1,400 students -- most in average-level courses -- are considered by school officials to be at risk. As of 1996, more than one in 10 of the school's students had yet to pass the sixth-grade-level functional tests required of students to graduate, school system data show.

"But do you know that the 'supe-ing' out is the reason for that?" asked Michael Robb, a 12th-grade student, at the PTA meeting -- one of about 30 students in attendance. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Some stressed that the proposed changes come with little input from parents or students.

"These are decisions that should be left up to children and their parents," said Robin Marcus, an algebra teacher at Wilde Lake who was on the scheduling committee but disagreed with its outcome. "It makes no sense."

Most parents at the meeting said they support Plunkett and are delighted with improvements he has made at Wilde Lake since arriving last fall. But they are nonetheless uncomfortable with the impending changes.

Said Andy Barth, parent of a Wilde Lake senior, to the administrators: "This has moved from a discussion about the merit of this policy to a discussion about trust. You need to be listening to what is being said here."

Pub Date: 2/11/98

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