Delay is urged for middle school plan

Board asked to seek waiver on schedules

November 02, 2001|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

About 250 Anne Arundel parents, pupils, teachers and principals offered a simple solution last night to the vexing challenge of remaking the schedules of at least 8,500 middle school pupils in midyear: Just don't do it.

At a standing-room public hearing in Annapolis, the county school board was urged to request a waiver from the state Board of Education, which has ordered that all county middle school pupils be taking physical education and fine arts by the second semester.

The county board is wrestling with how to do that. The complex, emotional issue brought an overflow crowd to the board's headquarters meeting room. Dozens sat on the floor, and dozens more lined the back walls. And at least 65 signed up to speak.

Almost everyone told the board that making midyear schedule changes would harm children who are at an awkward stage in their lives and need stability, not upheaval.

"Please, ask for a waiver to allow us to avoid hurting our children needlessly," said Chris Truffer, principal of Corkran Middle in Glen Burnie, speaking for all 19 county middle school principals. "Students have bonded with teachers, learned expectations and developed trusting relationships - all of which would change if students had to alter their routine."

About 15 children spoke to the board, while some of their parents snapped photographs. The children also asked that any changes be put off until next fall.

"Four months without gym or another elective will not hurt us," said Amy Dugan, 11, a sixth-grader at Magothy River Middle. "Everyone in sixth grade has been affected by the events of Sept. 11. Familiar things are important in a time when everything is changing."

Later, the school presented the board with a petition signed by 300 parents and teachers, urging a delay. Other groups lined up to speak against a midyear change included the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, Counselors Association of Anne Arundel County, and the parent-teacher associations of several middle schools.

About 8,500 of the county's 17,800 middle school students are not taking the state-mandated physical education and fine arts classes. Under a state order, the schools must find a way to get those children into the required classes by February - creating an upheaval unlike any these schools have seen before, say educators.

Not only will 8,500 schedules have to remade, but some pupils already taking the required classes will probably be bumped out to make room for the others. All told, 16,500 pupils could see schedule changes in the middle of the school year, officials estimate.

While school board members appear to favor delaying the schedule change, they must get a waiver from the state. The county will have to appeal to Maryland schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who will have 45 days to make a recommendation to the state Board of Education.

A waiver is no sure thing.

"Waiting until the 2002-03 school year is not an option at this point because of the state board's direction," said Carlesa Finney, county school board president. "We must proceed as if we will not be granted a waiver. Otherwise, there will be no time for implementing anything."

The school board is considering nine options for remaking the schedule. All are costly and disruptive, and none is appealing, members say. But they must choose one at their meeting Wednesday.

Some parents urged the board to adopt a seven-period day at the middle schools, most of which now operate on six periods. The parents said inserting time for one more period would cause minimal disruption. But school officials estimate that would cost $3.7 million.

"Obviously, we're in a mess," said David Hildebrand, a Severna Park parent. "This is a very tough situation. We all want a good education, and seven periods makes a great deal of sense because middle school kids love the idea of having choices."

Other parents, teachers and pupils expressed concerns about the effects on other electives - such as technical education and family and consumer science - that are not required by the state, but they say are vital for children's development.

"If the changes are made, I could have new teachers and new classmates," said Taylor Adams, a Severna Park Middle pupil who is not taking fine arts this year. "I will lose technical education or my foreign language. Both are helping me become a well-rounded person."

Superintendent Carol S. Parham is recommending the board allow each of the 19 middle schools to choose one of three options:

Turn the weekly, 30-minute advisory period, usually reserved for counseling and special school programs, into a daily "exploratory" period. Children who need gym and fine arts would take those courses during this time. Children who don't need gym and fine arts would take other classes.

Each school, on its own, could reschedule children who need gym and fine arts. Each child's schedule would have to be examined on an individual basis.

Increase the number of classes that rotate day-to-day. Now most middle schools have one period per day that alternates on an A/B schedule. This option calls for adding a third or fourth day to the rotation.

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