School board establishes world language pilot program

Students in two Howard County elementary schools will have two new classes when they return to school in the fall: Mandarin and Spanish.

The Howard County Board of Education approved a two-year pilot Elementary World Language Program at its meeting Thursday, June 9, which provides for the teaching of both Mandarin and Spanish at the elementary level.

World language instruction is currently taught beginning at the middle school level.

Under the new program, which will be implemented at two as-yet-undetermined elementary schools, students in kindergarten through second grade will have one semester of each language. In third grade, they will pick one to study for the entire year.

For the first year of the program, however, students in all grades with take both languages, to give the older students exposure to both. That policy was set after several board members and parents raised questions about giving students a choice of languages during a work session May 26.

"This way, they can make a more educated choice, having experienced both languages," said Marie DeAngelis, director of the elementary curricular program. "It's a chance to get into both languages a little more in-depth."

DeAngelis and Deborah Espitia, coordinator of world languages, who are co-chairs of the world language committee, will be determining which two schools will have the pilot program within the next days, they said, so they can meet with staff before the end of the school year.

In the 2012 fiscal budget recently adopted by the board, $120,000 was allotted for the planning and implementation of the program. With Spanish instruction, implementation will cost an additional $50,000. Ray Brown, chief financial officer, said that money would have to come from elsewhere in the budget. The board will decide exactly where.

The world language class will be taught by a world language teacher during the related arts rotation of the school day. Students will still receive one hour of technology instruction per week.

Gang, homeless policies OK'd

The board also approved two new policies June 9, one addressing gangs and gang-related activity in the system, and one addressing homeless children and youth. Both won unanimous approval.

The revised gang policy changed uses of the word "illegal" to "delinquent," and added a definition of the term: failure to do what is required by law or obligation. The definition of "gang activity" changed from "wearing, possessing, displaying, using or distributing clothing, accessories, or other items which are potential indicators of membership/affiliation in any gang and which are related to potentially violent, delinquent or criminal activities, retaliation or recruiting of members" to "committing, attempting to commit, or soliciting of two or more crimes; or acts by a juvenile that would be a crime if committed by an adult."

The definition is now aligned with the state's model policy, said William Ryan, chairman of the committee chartered to create the school's policy. The policy, which was mandated by the state by the Safe Schools Act of 2010, must go to the state for approval.

The homeless policy, which took effect immediately, was written to eliminate barriers facing homeless students attending Howard County schools. The policy provides guidelines for ensuring homeless students receive equal access to all educational programs and school-related activities, including sports.

As of June 8, 585 homeless students attended county schools.

One final policy, on record management, was discussed at the meeting. Lisa Boarman, coordinator of school counseling and related services, presented a draft of the policy, which would establish a records management program and provide standards and a schedule for record preservation and destruction.

The schools currently do not have a records retention office or officer.

A public work session on the policy has been scheduled for August 18, and a public hearing Sept. 18.

Board member Allen Dyer, who board members voted to oust from his position earlier in the meeting because, in part, of his many lawsuits against the board — including one on record retention — thanked Boarman and the committee for their work on the policy.

Dyer has alleged the school system is illegally destroying documents by deleting emails.

"If this had been done when I was first on the board, I wouldn't be impeached right now," he said of the proposed policy.

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