Tougher rules in play at City

Eligibility guide sparks debate as similar plan sought for system

March 06, 2000|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Late for class again? Forget about the prom.

Missed school too often without a note? Off the baseball team.

Failed to keep up your grade point average? No cap and gown.

Life has gotten a little tougher at one of Baltimore's top high schools. At City College, the 1,200 students have to follow rules this spring that are stricter than at any other city public school.

Championed as a way to keep high academic and attendance standards, the City College crackdown has cut short its basketball season and prompted a furor -- just as the city school district prepares to establish basic guidelines for extracurricular activities.

"It's not right. If the focus is our grades, and if our lateness doesn't affect our grades, what's the problem?" said senior Veronica Scott.

City College's canon, initially posted last fall, is simple. No more than four unexcused absences. No more than 14 unexcused late arrivals. Maintain a 70 average and a 60 or better in three of four courses. Each semester is a fresh start.

Fail, and you lose privileges -- from playing basketball to dancing at the prom to walking across the stage at graduation.

The rules -- suspended by city education chief Robert Booker for the City-Poly football game -- went back up in January.

In the weeks since, they've provoked plenty of praise -- and protests. Parents and alumni have sent congratulatory e-mail messages, some saying the standards aren't tough enough. Students have taken sides. Many grew more outraged once they realized it wasn't just about sports. Coaches are grumbling, and several staffers have asked to meet with Booker.

City schools seek policy

No one suggests that the rest of Baltimore's high schools adopt as stringent standards. But now, the city school system doesn't have policies governing students' participation in extracurricular activities besides sports.

All it has is a sports handbook with a long-standing rule that forbids high school athletes from playing if they fail more than one course per grading period.

A city schools committee is proposing that the same one-course failure rule apply to cheerleading, band, chess, yearbook and similar clubs. Some high schools already do so. Many others are more lenient.

The committee's plan, if approved by the school board, would go into effect in the fall. Committee members are considering stricter standards for sports and clubs -- including possibly a requirement to pass all courses -- but want to phase them in over a few years.

"This is a starting place," said Anne Carusi, the Southern area executive officer who is on the committee. "We're looking at what the minimums would do and what the maximums would do."

A venerable school

To get an idea of how contentious extracurricular standards could prove, the committee only has to look at City College.

City College is one of Baltimore's most venerable high schools, the alma mater of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and many other influential people. The three-story school in Northeast Baltimore -- known as "the castle on the hill" -- has entrance requirements, and most graduates go on to college.

While its goal is to shape tomorrow's leaders, City College hasn't escaped all the educational problems of today. In the early 1990s, its dropout rate increased, and test scores slipped.

Enter Principal Joseph M. Wilson, a former law school professor, longtime attorney, coach and high school teacher. In his first weeks on the job in 1994, he stationed himself in a corridor and bellowed: "It's 8: 34, minus four minutes to get to class. Let's go, let's go."

70 average

The next school year, after surveying local colleges on their admissions practices, Wilson decided to raise academic standards. The school district had established 60 as a passing grade; at City College, Wilson made it 70.

His policy spelled out clear consequences. Students who did not achieve a 70 average, or C-, would be prohibited from sports, clubs and even from the graduation ceremony (though they still would get their diplomas).

City College's enrollment went up 12 percent, its scores soared on the annual state report card and its dropout rate decreased. But the school policy wasn't fully enforced. Parents would complain if their teens were barred from sports or graduation, and the school board frequently overruled City College since there was no similar citywide policy.

Regaining momentum

A year ago, frustrated that attendance was dropping again, Wilson met with teachers and student leaders to devise a new plan. This time, they decided to revoke privileges of students who frequently skipped school or showed up late without a note. They also believed it would be easier to enforce because there's a new school board.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.