Arundel faces school electives issue

Panel offers choices in getting more pupils into gym, art classes

October 11, 2001|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

It won't be easy nor cheap to get all middle school pupils into physical education and fine arts courses by February, as ordered by the state, the Anne Arundel County school board was told yesterday by educators and parents.

To meet the state mandate, the school board is considering hiring up to 150 new teachers, overhauling pupil schedules or lengthening the school day. Then there's the estimated cost: from $350,000 to $3.7 million for the second semester of this school year.

Yesterday, the board heard five options for getting middle schoolers into gym and fine arts - classes the board had considered electives until the state said otherwise last month. The action came on a lawsuit brought by parents who were upset that their children's electives time had been cut in the name of a new reading program.

But the options presented yesterday had one thing in common: They maintained the two reading periods per day that generated the controversy.

The school board took no action yesterday. Rather, it set a public hearing on the issue for 7 p.m. Nov. 1 at the board headquarters in Annapolis. The board must decide a course of action at the Nov. 7 meeting so school principals have time to reorganize schedules and plan for the changes.

About 30 percent of the county's 17,800 middle school pupils aren't taking gym, and 18 percent aren't taking fine arts. But other pupils would also see their schedules change to make room in gym and fine arts classes.

"I am thinking how difficult the implementation will be for our children and for our teachers," said board chairwoman Carlesa Finney, noting that some teachers will be asked to take on courses outside their fields of expertise.

The five options the committee offered:

Turn the weekly, 30-minute advisory period, usually reserved for counseling, into an exploratory period. Pupils who need gym and fine arts could take the courses in that time, while pupils who don't need those courses could take other electives. Cost: $350,000.

Each school, on its own, could reschedule pupils who need gym and fine arts into those classes. Cost: $1.4 million, much of it to hire new gym teachers.

Middle schools have one period per day that alternates on an A-day/B-day schedule. For instance, many pupils take gym on A-day and an elective on B-day. This option recommends adding a C-day to that rotation, so children can fit in all the classes the state is now requiring. Cost: $808,000.

Make pupils who need gym and fine arts take those classes before or after the regular school day. This creates problems, however, with bus schedules and requires extra teachers. Cost: $695,000.

Put all middle schools on a seven-period day. This would require rescheduling for all pupils and the hiring of 150 teachers and administrators. Cost: $3.7 million.

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