Board raises grade bar

Panel ties promotion of middle-schoolers to their activities

Standard now C, not D

At meeting, debate erupts over plan for wastewater

May 26, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

At its meeting last night, the Howard County Board of Education tightened standards for middle-schoolers by setting minimum requirements for promotion and for participation in extracurricular activities once they start ninth grade.

The board also heard testimony on the much-debated proposals to improve treatment of wastewater so Glenelg High School can be renovated and expanded.

More than 70 people packed the meeting room in the Department of Education building in Ellicott City.

The middle-school standards are covered in two new policies that will go into effect next academic year.

One toughens standards in middle school for advancing from one grade to the next.

In advancing from sixth grade to seventh grade, or from seventh to eighth, a pupil must pass all courses, and cannot earn a final grade lower than "C" in the core subjects of language arts, social studies, reading, math and science.

Statewide, the minimum standard for passing courses is "D."

Children who don't meet the new requirements will automatically be considered for retention.

In addition, students must pass the Maryland functional tests in reading, writing and math before moving on to high school.

The board also approved a policy that bars pupils with low marks in eighth grade from participating in extracurricular activities in ninth grade.

Under the policy, pupils must have a final grade of at least "C" in core courses and have no final failing marks in their last year of middle school.

Board member Stephen C. Bounds called the policies "appropriate."

"This was all about raising the bar," he said.

Said Board Chairman Sandra H. French: "If the students are weak in middle school, we are setting them up for failure in high school."

Board member Laura Waters was the lone dissenting vote on both policies.

She thought the standards were not "realistic" and did not like tying ninth-grade activities to eighth-grade marks.

"I don't think that will motivate students who are not motivated to work," she said.

The board unanimously approved revisions to the schools' drug-and-alcohol policy, making it possible that graduating seniors who violate the regulations could miss activities such as commencement or the prom.

It also strengthens the punishments for violators who participate in school activities.

Also at the meeting, school officials told the board that they could not yet recommend a solution to the need for improving wastewater treatment for Glenelg High School.

Earlier proposals were to rebuild and expand the existing septic system; to acquire land near the school to construct a new septic field; to build a wastewater treatment plant at Glenelg High or one on the site of Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School.

All options have attracted opposition from residents.

"I very much regret that after all this time and effort, I do not have a solution for you," Bill Brown, director of school construction and planning, told the board. "It's a matter of balancing very unattractive options."

Ellen Durigg, whose family farm is just south of Glenelg High School, testified that the school system has asked to buy 20 acres of the land, and didn't take no for an answer.

Her family is concerned that condemnation of private land in the area is on the list of options.

Brown said that condemnation is a long and difficult process that school officials do not consider with any "enthusiasm."

Al DeRemigis and other members of the nearby Triadelphia Farms II Homeowner's Association said the best option is to acquire more land for a new septic field.

They believe that the other options could contaminate ground water and create foul odors.

Terry Chaconas, speaking for about a dozen members of Glenelg High's parent-teacher-student association, said the delays on improving wastewater treatment are delaying additions to the school, and renovations to the weight room, music suite and other areas.

"We need those improvements today," she said. "We do not have your answer, but we clearly understand the urgency of this matter. ...We respectfully request that you put this on the top of your agenda.

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