High school's enrollee plan is not settled

Marriott's Ridge might accept some countywide

`A temporary problem'

Board to tackle leftover redistricting issue Dec. 9

Howard County

December 01, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

New boundary lines have been drawn for Howard County's high school districts, but one unresolved issue faces the school board: whether to allow open enrollment at Marriott's Ridge High when it opens next fall.

The school board could not agree on the issue last week when it voted on new district lines. Board members will reconsider the option at their Dec. 9 meeting.

The county's 12th high school, in Marriottsville, is expected to open with about 560 freshmen and sophomores. But some parents of future Marriott's Ridge students want to see a first-year enrollment that is closer to 700, more than half of the 1,332 available seats.

The smaller the population, the fewer choices students will have for clubs and electives such as band and choir, these parents have argued at public hearings.

"Each student can only participate in a limited number of activities due to scheduling conflicts, so the more students there are, the greater the likelihood that there will be the bodies and the interest level to support a broad range of courses and extracurricular programs," said parent Phyllis McWilliams at a hearing last month.

School officials say academic programs at Marriott's Ridge will not suffer, but board members recognize the parents' concerns about the empty seats.

"We have a temporary problem at Marriott's Ridge in the first year," said Courtney Watson, the school board chairman. "The boundary lines that have been established will fill Marriott's Ridge within a few years."

Influx expected

School officials say Marriott's Ridge is well positioned to absorb an influx of students from the expansion of the Turf Valley development in western Howard County, expected to be completed in several years. In the past, the school system has been criticized for opening schools that have become crowded after a year.

During last month's redistricting work sessions, the Board of Education discussed several options to draw more students to Marriott's Ridge, including taking Valley Mede students who walk to Mount Hebron High. That idea was opposed by the community and rejected by the board.

At last week's vote on a redistricting proposal, the board considered open enrollment, which would allow next year's freshmen and sophomores throughout the county to attend Marriott's Ridge.

Open enrollment would be available only in the 2005-2006 school year and be limited to 100 students. A lottery might be used if more than 100 students apply. Transportation would not be provided.

Voicing skepticism

Angela Liuzzo, a parent of an eighth-grader who will attend Marriott's Ridge, said she is skeptical about open enrollment.

"If you're a parent living somewhere else, you'd have to first be unhappy with the school your [child is] going to," Liuzzo said. "All Howard County schools are very much liked. Like we saw, nobody wants to be redistricted."

The school system has moved away from open enrollment in recent years, placing a moratorium on the option in 2000 amid criticism that the practice was elitist. The school system allows for exceptions in very few cases.

School system demographer David C. Drown told board members that open enrollment may create unintended consequences, such as establishing Marriott's Ridge as a magnet school for extracurricular or sports activities.

Board members also raised equity issues.

`Mischief or abuse'

"I'm not in favor of an open-enrollment option, not because it won't help, but it opens up an opportunity for mischief or abuse that many or some [people] may take advantage of," said James P. O'Donnell, the school board's vice chairman.

Board member Sandra H. French said she strongly supports open enrollment at Marriott's Ridge, but she will not have a vote on the matter. She and O'Donnell will leave the board Monday, when newly elected members Diane Mikulis and Mary Kay Sigaty are sworn in.

Mikulis said she is receptive to open enrollment but added, "I don't know what the possible implications might be. I need to be open-minded about this and find out what the pros and cons are."

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