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Parents at George Cromwell Elementary in Ferndale want to know why.

Why are head lice examinations being left up to parents?

Why must students take chorus lessons on their own time?

Why is so much time being spent preparing students for the Maryland SchoolPerformance Program?

And couldn't money for that program be better used elsewhere?

They hope to get some answers tonight. A Back toSchool forum set for 7 p.m. as a chance to meet teachers is evolvinginto a forum for parents' complaints.

The school's Parent TeacherAssociation is collecting a petition asking those questions. Most ofthe parents' anger regards head lice.

County principals no longercall the county Health Department with suspected cases of head lice.Instead, they have been told to use the time helping prepare for theperformance program's functional tests in grades three, five, eight and 11.

Parents must examine their children for the little brown bugs and seek treatment before students can be readmitted back to school.

"I'm upset as a mother that they would take health-care professionals who would check for head lice out of schools," said Cherie Sheldon, who has three children at the school.

"Some parents will not be as conscientious as others. I'm afraid of an epidemic," she said.

"When a child gets head lice, if the parent calls it in, a letter will be sent to the whole class," said Debbie Denford, PTA representative for the North County High School feeder system.

"But the health department will not come. If children have it and parents don't check it or take them to the doctor, it will spread."

Denford saidshe sent a letter to school superintendent Larry L. Lorton Aug. 21, when she said she first learned of the changes.

Lorton has not responded, she said. The petition will be delivered to school board members. Denford said she and other parents are hoping to get a meeting with Lorton.

The superintendent could not be reached for comment.

Dr. Lani Majer, director of school health with the county Health Department, said parents are welcome to call health centers about checking for lice.

But at the instruction of the school system, Majer'ssmall staff will concentrate on about 350 students with severe medical needs, ranging from frequent asthma at tacks and diabetes to chemotherapy and frequent seizures.

"It's something that we had been attempting to do," Majer said. "The numbers needing service have dramatically increased. We never have nor are able now to serve all schoolsthat need assistance."

Majer's staff of three -- with responsibility for 120 schools -- will examine students in schools and provide information to aides working there.

Anne Arundel County does not employ school nurses. Much of the responsibility for giving medication in schools has fallen on school secretaries.

The chorus class, which had been held once a week at Cromwell during the school day, also has been abandoned to devote more time to preparing for the tests.

For now, instruction is offered during recess, since parents objected to holding the class either before or after school.

Parent concerns about the school performance program seem to have more to do witha lack of faith in the program.

"I think the whole test is a jokeand waste of time and money," Denford said. "They're preparing a whole year for a test to see whether you can think or not.

"We don't have the results from last year's test yet."

Cromwell principal Richard Chilipko said he is aware of parent concerns and has directed them to school system leaders.

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