Minutes before the Anne Arundel County school board voted on the last piece of its embattled initiative to double the time spent on reading in middle school, the lawyer for a group of parents protesting the program's legality implored them to wait.
"I am here to ask you merely to entertain the possibility that we may be correct," attorney Thomas A. Deming told the board.
Deming argued that if his clients are correct in saying that the board is violating Maryland codes and would create new violations if it turned classes that were once mandatory into electives, it would cause great turmoil to change the curriculum at midyear. He asked the board to hold off until the state Board of Education makes a ruling on an appeal filed last week. That could take months.
The board did not, voting unanimously (with President Paul G. Rudolph abstaining and Joseph H. Foster absent) to proceed with the final piece of the plan, the wording of the sixth-grade curriculum.
The board has twice approved Superintendent Carol S. Parham's plan to counter falling middle school test scores. Parents have said they don't oppose more reading but that they are against taking the time from such classes as art, home economics, music and physical education to do it. The program would start with this fall's sixth-graders.
Steve Thompson has a daughter who will soon attend Meade Middle School. She is an "excellent reader, writer and public speaker" who plays the violin and enjoys singing. Under the new plan, he said, "her wings will be clipped."
"She will not be able to stay in the orchestra," he told the board. "She will not be able to take the world languages course she wanted."
Others appeared before the board to praise the new initiative. "Dr. Parham's plan ... targets the problem where it begins, in middle school," said Fred Galloway, a parent of children at Central Middle School and South River High School. "The ability to read and write is the foundation of a quality education."
Board member Carlesa Finney acknowledged the divisiveness of the reading plan, which was proposed in January. "No matter how I vote, I'm always going to be voting against what someone thinks I should vote for. It doesn't mean it hasn't been heard, " she said.
Later, the board addressed one of Deming's concerns indirectly. The Maryland regulations regarding the teaching of fine art, physical education and health education - along with other core subjects - state that for each subject local school systems "shall provide an instructional program" each year for students in kindergarten through eighth grades.
The county school board voted yesterday to start requiring physical education each year starting in the 2002-2003 academic year.
Fine art is required each year in middle school, but under the plan it would become an elective.