The Anne Arundel County School Board decided last night that it would not penalize students who switch schools by prohibiting them from participating in sports programs.
The board had considered a new policy that would require students who wanted to participate in interscholastic athletics to attend schools near the home of their parents or legal guardians.
Under the proposal, students who transferred to schools outside their neighborhood area would have been barred from participating in sports for a year.
The issue came to the fore this year when parents complained that a student older than 18 was living with a coach in order to play sports at a particular school.
But board members felt that the proposed policy would unfairly penalize students.
"Some students may be transferring for legitimate reasons and may happen to be a very good athlete, and I see no reason to penalize them," said board member Dorothy Chaney.
Maureen Carr-York, another board member, said it was unclear whether abuse of the school system's transfer policy was a problem large enough to warrant such a harsh penalty.
School system administrators said that of 200 transfers this year, about 10 are believed to have been driven by a student's desire to participate in a sports program at a particular school.
Board member Thomas Twombly was in favor of the policy, noting that such a policy was enacted in Texas.
"Texas has enough guts to take care of their problem, but apparently we don't," Mr. Twombly said.
Board President Michael A. Pace disagreed, saying, "It's not a matter of guts, it's a question of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We would be penalizing many students who are not necessarily star athletes for one-third to one-fourth of their high school career. That seems to me to be overcompensation."
William Wentworth, principal of North County High School, told board members before they voted that the problem with transfers is not necessarily that people are abusing the system. School policy authorizes students to change schools if a "professional" recommends a transfer for emotional or social adjustment and other reasons, he noted.
"Unfortunately . . . the policies and procedures aren't adhered to by the people making decisions about transfers," Mr. Wentworth said. "The policy is very clear."
The debate took up much of the evening and by 10:30 p.m., the school board had not begun to address the issue of finances. The board was expected to shift money within its $417.1 million budget to fund the positions of attorney, employee record specialist and a clerk.
The jobs were recommended by independent investigator Alan I. Baron, who criticized the school system's handling of child abuse allegations against teachers. The County Council has deliberately cut those jobs from the school budget the past two years.