4-period school schedule upheld

Board backs Smith plan, rejects parents' appeal

March 07, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County school board rejected yesterday an appeal by a group of parents challenging the superintendent's decision to move middle and high schools to four-period schedules in the fall.

A day after meeting in closed session to address the matter, the board issued a seven-page order siding with Superintendent Eric J. Smith.

Members of the Coalition for Balanced Excellence in Education had not decided yesterday evening whether to appeal the case to the state Board of Education.

The group had argued that the schedule change should be put off because the plan might not comply with state curriculum requirements.

It also said the public did not have a chance to provide "meaningful input" before the decision to change the schedules was made.

Many students, teachers and parents oppose the schedules for a variety of reasons.

Some have criticized the middle school plan because it would reduce science and social studies to half-year courses.

Others said students would not be able to concentrate during the longer class periods.

Smith has said the middle school schedule would allow a greater focus on math and reading, and that the high school plan would give students more flexibility in choosing classes.

Board members held the closed session after their regular board meeting Wednesday.

The state's Open Meetings Act requires that public bodies hold open meetings, though sessions can be closed to discuss subjects such as legal or personnel matters.

The law can be deemed inapplicable for executive, judicial or quasi-judicial functions, according to an interpretation of the act by the state attorney general's office.

P. Tyson Bennett, attorney for the school board, said members were performing a quasi-judicial function in considering an appeal of a superintendent's decision.

In its ruling, the school board agreed with Smith's contention that state education officials had reviewed and approved of the scheduling model.

The board also found that Smith had announced his decision after "extensive" public participation.

Sally Vanzandt, a member of the parent group's steering committee, said she was not surprised by the decision because board members have publicly supported Smith's plan.

Vanzandt said she disagreed with the board's position that the public was sufficiently involved in the process.

"It's one thing to take public input, but another to ignore it," she said. "They went through the motions of public participation."

Board Vice President Carlesa Finney said she approached the parents' appeal with an open mind, although she supports the schedule changes.

"It was important to look at that information and see if there was something we were missing perhaps ... that the community might have seen," Finney said.

She said board members found nothing to persuade them to overturn Smith's decision.

County school officials said they were pleased by the board's ruling.

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