Middle schools allowed choice

Principals to decide by Feb. 15 on 4-period or 7-period schedule

Cell phone policy eased

January 24, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County middle schools will shake up their schedules and adopt a four-period or seven-period day this fall, the school board decided last night.

But whether it's four periods or seven depends on the school.

The board voted unanimously to allow middle school principals to choose by Feb. 15 the schedule that best fits their school, after consulting with faculty and parents.

Both options allow middle schoolers to meet the state requirement of taking physical education, health and fine arts every year - as well as continuing the county's new, intensive reading program.

"Models of success are not all one model," said Carlesa Finney, the school board president. "They are based on the children, the community, and the professional staff. And I hope we never get to the point where we think we have to do everything the same in every one of our schools."

All but two of the county's 19 middle schools run on six-period days. Brooklyn Park Middle has a four-period day, and Meade Middle runs on a seven-period day. Both are expected to continue with their schedules.

Under the seven-period day, classes will run for 47 minutes and children will take two electives every day. Under the four-period day, classes will run for 86 minutes, with one period for electives.

Both schedules maintain the county's "Balanced Literacy" program, which provides extended reading time for sixth- and seventh-graders. That program started last fall, and board members consider it key to improving reading test scores.

The four-period and seven-period days also give middle school teachers about 90 minutes of planning time per day, from the current 55 minutes. While teachers say the extra time is needed to prepare quality lessons, the increase means class sizes will go up.

This year, the average class size in middle school is 28 children. Next year, in seven-period day schools, classes will average 32. In four-period day schools, the average class size will be 30.

In other action, the school board changed its policy on cell phones and pagers - and beginning Feb. 4 will allow students from kindergarten through high school to have them at school.

But they won't be able to use them during the school day. The policy says "personal electronic communication devices" are allowed in all schools, but can be used only before or after school.

The devices must remain off during the school day. They also must be turned off during before-school and after-school instructional activities and while children are riding school buses.

The board approved the policy by a 6-1 vote, with Joseph Foster dissenting.

Board member Michael J. McNelly said he recently gave his daughter, a sophomore at Southern High, a cell phone, and he's not sure whether she takes it to school.

"I wish it would be in her backpack in case of emergency," McNelly said. "I am very cognizant of how valuable that cell phone can be in an emergency."

Board member Paul Rudolph voted for the policy, but said the punishment spelled out for students who use cell phones during the day wasn't harsh enough.

Rudolph said he feared students would be using the phones all day, though he saw an advantage to that. "There will be so many people using cell phones in bathrooms that there won't be room for the smokers," he said.

"Many students stay after school and don't have cars," said Shavonne Shorter, a sophomore at Old Mill High School and vice president of the county student council association. "They need a way to get home and get in touch with their parents."

The school board spelled out punishments for students who break the rules on cellular telephone use.

On the first offense, a principal or teacher could confiscate the phone and return it only to a parent or guardian. The student might be prohibited from bringing the phone onto school grounds.

The second offense results in similar punishment.

By the third offense, a student could be suspended for up to three days. And beyond that, the student could be expelled.

Before last fall, a state law prohibited students from bringing cell phones and pagers into public schools. That law, passed in 1989, was intended to thwart students who used the phones and pagers for drug sales. But the law was repealed last year, as cell phones grew ever more popular, and parents sought easy ways to stay in touch with children. Now, counties can set cell phone policies.

Harford and Montgomery counties allow only high school students to take cell phones to school. Howard allows all children to bring phones, though they must be turned off during school hours.

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