WHAT'S a persistently dangerous school?
The State Board of Education spent nearly an hour agonizing over the question Tuesday. Within the next few months, the board must approve a definition, and beginning next fall, it must allow Maryland students to transfer out of danger.
It's one of the many vexing requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, signed by President Bush on Jan. 8.
The board's discussion mixed Alice in Wonderland absurdity with genuine concern over the safety of Maryland schools. The new act is like that. It's a regulatory nightmare in service of sound intentions.
For example, in theory, an entire student body could transfer from a school judged persistently dangerous. What would happen, mused board member JoAnn T. Bell, if all 2,800 students at Suitland High School in Prince George's County decided to take advantage of the dangerous school-transfer option? "It boggles the mind. Where do they think they're going to go?" she asked.
Bell, a 19-year veteran of the Prince George's school board and County Council, suggested jokingly that the board invite her congressman, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, to explain what he was thinking when he voted for No Child Left Behind.
Here's how complicated it is: Working with 13 pages of "non-regulatory guidance" from the U.S. Department of Education, officials in the Maryland department on West Baltimore Street have drafted a tentative set of definitions, rules and regulations.
As they stand now, the proposed Maryland regulations define a persistently dangerous school as one in which, over three consecutive school years, 2 1/2 percent or more of the student body has been suspended for more than 10 days or expelled for any of nine offenses, ranging, in alphabetical order, from arson to sexual assault.
Where did the 2 1/2 percent come from? State officials didn't want to be accused of targeting specific schools, so they ran various percentages through a computer, matching them with suspension and expulsion data from Maryland schools. A cutoff of 2 1/2 percent would yield but one school, said Chuck Buckler, a state education specialist. Lowering the number of qualifying years from three to one would yield 36 dangerous schools.
Board members, state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and board lawyer Valerie V. Cloutier chuckled over the absurdity of it all, but then a strange thing happened. Reality set in. Several members noted that the qualifying offenses - including physical attacks on students and teachers, not to mention the use of explosives, drugs and weapons - are not exactly of the severity of chewing gum.
"Even if there's one school over a period of two years," said Grasmick, "if we have this level of incidents, we should do something."
A tax break for teachers who buy their supplies
Maryland teachers who pay for school supplies out of their own pockets - and few good teachers don't - are advised to stock up before the end of December.
New tax rules allow teachers to write off up to $250 of such out-of-pocket expenses, even if they don't itemize deductions. The rule applies to both public and private school teachers.
Applications to Hood jump with admission of men
Officials at Hood College had hoped that its decision to admit men as resident students for the first time in the school's 109-year history would result in a surge of applications.
That's exactly what's happened, President Ronald J. Volpe said last week, and the first male applicants are the sons of Hood alumnae.
Volpe said Hood now expects a freshman class of 240 to 250 next fall, up from 185 this year. About 40 will be men.
"Our people think they've died and gone to heaven," said Volpe, in Baltimore to pick up a check for $1.7 million from the Hodson Trust.
Another Maryland college expands by degrees
The Community College of Baltimore County last week announced a partnership with Walden University to offer bachelor's degree programs over the Internet to graduates of the two-year school and master's and doctoral studies to faculty and staff.
Walden, based in Minnesota, is a 30-year-old pioneer in distance learning for adults. It's not to be confused with Walden College, the fictional school in the Doonesbury comic strip.