Reporter refused permission to observe classes at Waterloo


In an apparent violation of a policy encouraging community visits to the Howard County public schools, school officials have refused to allow a Sun reporter to observe classes at Waterloo Elementary School.

The reporter requested permission Monday to observe Waterloo's program for seriously emotionally disturbed pupils, but was told yesterday a visit would not be arranged until sometime after next Thursday -- the day the school board will decide whether to divide the program between Waterloo and Stevens Forest elementaries.

The program, considered a state wide model, has attracted widespread attention in the past month because of vocal opposition from Stevens Forest parents to receiving the students.

School officials said they believe Waterloo already has granted rTC The Sun enough access because the principal and vice principal were interviewed for an article about the program in early February. A reporter did not observe the program at that time.

"We provided ample opportunity in the past for access," said school spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "They feel right now their resources are stretched to the limit."

Waterloo Principal Karen Moore-Roby "said she would be very happy to provide an opportunity to see the program after the decision is made," Ms. Caplan said. School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey refused to overrule Ms. Moore-Roby's decision, Ms. Caplan said. Ms. Moore-Roby refused to comment. Through a secretary, she told a Sun reporter Monday "never to call this school again and never to come here."

The Waterloo principal has encouraged group visits by Stevens Forest parents and teachers in the past several weeks to show them the program, and several other parents have observed the program individually, said Beth Bohac, Stevens Forest PTA president.

Ms. Caplan said that permitting a reporter in the school would create more of a demand on staff time than the tours given to others.

The decision not to permit the reporter to observe the program violates the school system's longtime practice and policy of encouraging parents and members of the community to visit and observe classrooms after giving appropriate notice.

"Parents and community members are encouraged to visit schools at any time. Arrangements can be made to visit an individual classroom by notifying the teacher at least 24 hours in advance," says the policy printed in a school system calendar distributed this school year.

Ms. Caplan said the school system has denied access to other members of the community in the past, but would not cite specific examples.

Susan Cook, the chairwoman of the school board, said yesterday she would leave the decision up to the school's administration.

A factor in the decision is that the principal and other Waterloo staff have disliked recent media coverage of the issue of whether to send half the students in the program to Stevens Forest, Ms. Caplan said.

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