County revisits school naming

Surge in construction leads to review of policy for first time in 30 years

February 09, 2005|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

With two new schools under construction and the community calling for more, the Baltimore County school board revisited its policy on how schools are named last night for the first time in more than three decades.

The biggest proposed change: Schools could be named after people, as long as they are dead and contributed significantly to the county, the state or the country. Board members debated the merits of naming schools after living people.

They could also continue to be named after communities, subdivisions, streets, landmarks or other indicators of their geography.

The revised naming policy is scheduled for a board vote March 8. It would apply to the new -- tentatively named -- Woodholme Elementary and Windsor Mill Middle schools, which are under construction.

Under the proposed policy, the principal of a new school would recommend a name to the area executive director, who would submit the recommendation to the school board.

Scott Gehring, who as executive director of northwest-area schools has overseen the most new school openings in recent years, said he expects Woodholme will keep its name after the proposed process.

Most county schools are named after their surrounding communities or streets. Exceptions include General John Stricker Middle School and Powhatan Elementary, named after an Indian chief.

The school board hasn't revisited the topic since it issued a policy in 1969, Gehring said, because it's been decades since it's had to build many schools. Construction of Dogwood and New Town elementary schools and New Town High School changed that.

Now, district officials are exploring options for another elementary school to relieve overcrowding in the northwest area, and community activists are calling for the construction of a high school in the Perry Hall area.

The board is also reviewing its policies governing donations for capital projects and how they are named. Gymnasiums, stadiums and other parts of schools could be named for businesses, foundations, community organizations and people who are dead.

A new policy would prohibit donations for capital projects that could create a conflict of interest, such as a company donating in hopes of securing a contract.

Also last night, the board approved a change to its student behavior policies so that expulsion is no longer the mandatory punishment for certain offenses such as possession of alcohol or a knife.

The change gives administrators the option of assigning students to alternative programs instead of expelling them, particularly in cases involving first-time offenders. But in response to concerns from board members and the public, the board kept expulsion mandatory for the most severe offenses: arson, assault or battery of a staff member, distribution or sale of drugs, sexual assault and use of a firearm or other weapon.

In another matter, Jan Thomas, operating budget chair of the county PTA Council, told the board that she is disturbed by a recent trend of school business conducted privately. She noted major curriculum contracts approved without public discussion at board meetings and the few questions asked at the board's budget work session this month. The session lasted about an hour, and one board member said many questions had been answered in advance.

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