Pupils kept at home in protest

Parents protest renovation plan at Randallstown school

Grasmick negotiates

May 09, 2000|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Parents kept an estimated 250 Randallstown Elementary School pupils home yesterday to protest a school renovation plan, an action that forced state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick to step in and negotiate a last-minute compromise.

The protest was timed to hit state and county educators at a critical time, the start of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests, which are used to gauge learning and state funding.

Grasmick, concerned about the disruption of the testing schedule and the parents' action, rushed to Randallstown to meet with members of the school's PTA. She promised to have state officials review a $6 million renovation plan to make sure it will meet pupils' needs. A meeting between state officials and parents is expected early next month.

"Was it worth it? Most certainly," Ellis Barksdale, a parent and member of the Randallstown construction committee, said after the meeting with Grasmick. "Our point is, if we're going to do this, let's do it right the first time. Let's not waste $6 million and then have to come back and build a new school later."

Barksdale, PTA President Donya M. Douglas and PTA executive board member Sarah Dobson, met with Grasmick and Baltimore County Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione behind closed doors for about two hours yesterday to work out a deal to avoid a second day of absences. Parents wanted to spend the money on a new school and made it clear they would keep their children out for the entire week or longer if necessary.

"I'm sorry it had to come to this," said Grasmick shortly after the meeting broke at about 5: 30 p.m. "Assessment is an important part of our instructional program."

Randallstown Elementary, a flagstone structure built in 1908, is the oldest school in the county. Parents, calling the school too old and too crowded, have been begging for a new one for at least two years. But other schools, such as Stoneleigh Elementary in Towson, received renovation money first.

Members of the Baltimore County Board of Education toured the school in 1998 and were concerned by the condition of its bathrooms and cramped halls.

Plan set aside

Although there was talk of building a 550-seat school near Randallstown High School, that plan was set aside when education officials decided it would be too costly and the proposed site turned out to be unsuitable.

Instead, board members offered $6 million to build a combined gymnasium and auditorium, along with a new parking lot and bus circle. Inside, new windows and doors will be installed and other repairs will be made. The project is scheduled to begin this summer.

Parents weren't appeased. They appeared at a school board meeting recently to express their disappointment but made little headway. They said a boycott of the school was the only way they could force high-level state officials such as Grasmick to meet with them and hear their concerns.

Yesterday was the first day of MSPAP testing. The tests measure pupils' abilities in math, reading and other subject areas. Third-graders at Randallstown started the exam yesterday. Fifth-graders will begin a similar five-day exam period next week.

Because of the protest, only 22 of 88 Randallstown third-graders showed up for school yesterday. Grasmick said the school's MSPAP scores would not suffer. State officials will adjust the third-grade scores to make up for the missed day, she said.

Support from teachers

Parents assured Randallstown Principal Marcel I. Hall and her staff that the boycott had nothing to do with them or the MSPAP. Parents notified teachers Friday that they might keep their children at home. They used a telephone tree to get the message out. Teachers said yesterday that they support the parents' effort.

Some of them spoke out yesterday about conditions at the school. Teachers pointed out exposed heating pipes, peeling paint, asbestos tiles, cracked windows and extensive water damage in classrooms.

They said they love the school and their pupils but that morale is affected by the school's down-at-the-heels look.

"It's too bad [parents] had to do it this way, but no one was listening," a teacher said.

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