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School survey praise is unwarrantedThe Sun's Dec....

THE BALTIMORE SUN

School survey praise is unwarranted

The Sun's Dec. 1 editorial ("Keeping the customer satisfied") gave unmerited praise to the Howard County public school system for use of a new survey to reveal what parents, students and teachers think about their school system. In the past, Howard County has been overly concerned with pleasing parents and not sufficiently attentive to the needs of students.

With excessive concern for parents' feelings, the school system may betray its primary responsibility of education.

An example was when certain Howard County schools attempted to institute a reading program in the summer of 1997. The program consisted of students being asked to read two books, which were to be selected by the faculty of each grade, for extra credit. After many complaints from parents alleging this to be an "intrusion" on summer vacation, the school system canceled the reading program the following summer.

With continuing reliance on the thoughts and opinions of parents, students may miss out on the quality education they deserve. The core purpose of a school system is to educate students and if, in pleasing parents, education is interfered with, the school system ends up working against itself.

Tom Coale

Highland

Two recollections of the Ecker years

Outgoing Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker wondered in his final news conference why the public mistrusts developers ("Ecker leaves with a lecture," Dec. 2).

For an answer, he should consider the myriad negative impacts visited upon us by suburban sprawl: diminishing public services, crowded schools, snarled traffic and air pollution, degraded water sources due to runoff, permanent loss of agricultural base, disappearing open space, aesthetic impoverishment, and in the greater metropolitan area, urban decay and the resulting increase in social pathologies.

All are products of unplanned, uncontrolled development.

Our wariness of developers as agents of this assault on our living environment, and our concern over the political influence of the promoters of sprawl, are the result of hard lessons.

In contrast to the "growth for the sake of growth" philosophy apparent in Mr. Ecker's diatribe, incoming County Executive James Robey and a majority of the incoming Howard County Council have pledged to help protect the quality of life in our county by re-evaluating the pace of development and making sure that it is better managed.

We will be watching to ensure that they do.

Joseph Kershner

Ellicott City

I want to thank Chuck Ecker for everything he did for the arts in Howard County. He followed a real arts champion in that position, Liz Bobo, but like a true champion, he built on that base and made the arts a special cause for his administration.

Mr. Ecker understood that the arts are a cornerstone of building a community. They mirror people's cultures and increasingly are recognized for their value to quality of life, attracting business and improving students' abilities. Not to mention, they are great fun.

A few years ago, we had a breakfast with Mr. Ecker and several leaders from the business and education communities. The arts council had developed the concept for the Jim Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts at Wilde Lake, but we did not have a financial commitment from the group.

Mr. Ecker listened to Mike Galeone, then president of the arts council, explain the project and the funding challenge. He briefly looked down and with almost no hesitation said that he would support the project. It was a turning point for the project, which went on to win one of the last local program grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. It is recognized as a national model for private/public partnerships in the arts.

There were lots of partners in this project, including the Howard County Council and many in the business community, but we couldn't have done it without Chuck Ecker.

Mary E. Toth

Ellicott City

The writer is president of Maryland Citizens for the Arts.

I am writing to take The Sun to task for its biased presentation of student residency cases being reviewed by the school system and to clear up any misunderstanding that may have resulted from the paper's ongoing attempt to incite public criticism of the Board of Education's student residency policy.

The Sun reporter was provided with the following information on numerous occasions, but much of what follows was never included in articles published on this topic.

It is important to note that Maryland law gives local boards of education the authority to determine residency requirements for students.

The Howard County Board of Education's policy is simple: Student residency is determined by the location of the parents' residency. The policy also stipulates that court-appointed guardianship alone will not establish residency, a provision supported by the courts in Howard County and included in all court guardianship documents issued in the county.

Children residing with guardians may be enrolled in a Howard public school if tuition is paid or if a tuition waiver is granted. Waivers are granted if the parties involved can provide documentation of child abuse or neglect; death, serious illness, incarceration, or emergency military assignment of the child's parent(s). The school system's pupil personnel workers go to great lengths to assist families in obtaining appropriate documentation.

The provision requiring documentation was added to the policy about a decade ago when school officials noticed a growing trend for families living outside of Howard to transfer guardianship for the sole purpose of enrolling a child in the school system without paying tuition. The process for obtaining guardianship requires only that a form be filed and that court costs of around $100 be paid.

Contrary to a statement in a Dec. 3 article, the school system has not received "a barrage of criticism" regarding this policy. Other than critical comments that appeared in earlier articles and were solicited from individuals whose only knowledge of our policy was via what was reported, the system has received less than a dozen calls on the topic. Many were in support of our policy. We have not received one call related to "a football star from New York" who is attending a county school on tuition waiver.

Also contrary to The Sun's reports, the school system's Equity Council is not reviewing the residency policy. After several members of the council reported receiving calls about the policy from a Sun reporter, staff felt it would be appropriate for all the members to have a thorough understanding of the issue and added the policy to the council's November agenda for discussion.

If the Howard County policy is stricter than those of other systems, it is because the number of cases far exceeds those in surrounding jurisdictions. It should also be noted that since the policy was strengthened in 1991, there has not been one appeal of a residency decision to the Board of Education.

Nearly 700 residency cases were reviewed by the system last year. Of those, 51 tuition waivers were granted. Had all been granted, Howard County taxpayers would be spending roughly $3.5 million this year to educate non-residents. Also, 700 students equates to the capacity of a new middle school. Are county residents willing to pick up this cost?

The cases featured in The Sun are exceptional. All the attention given to these two does nothing more than reinforce the need for the system's practice of thoroughly reviewing the extenuating circumstances of each individual situation.

I am not questioning the newsworthiness of this issue, or your responsibility to report on tough issues facing the school system. I am only suggesting that the public interest is better served if you refrain from editorializing on the front page.

Patti Caplan

Ellicott City

The writer is public information officer for the Howard County public school system.

... but also a word of thanks for stories

Anyone who reads the Howard County section of The Sun must be aware of the problems encountered by the FanFan family in attempting to enroll their children in our public schools.

Happily, the matter has been resolved and the children are in school.

This letter is to thank the people responsible for this fortunate result. They are:

Kinza Schuyler, the head of Foreign-born Information and Referral Network (FIRN), an organization dedicated to assisting families from other lands who have come to Howard County, has been very active in supporting the efforts of the FanFan family.

Alice Lukens, reporter for The Sun, wrote several excellent articles supporting the efforts to have these children attend school.

Dr. Estes Lockhart, of the Howard County Department of Education, was very supportive of the FanFan family and showed the path the family should follow to meet the difficult requirements for admission to the school system.

It is to be hoped that the Board of Education will re-examine its very strict rules for entry of children into the school system.

Fred R. Pausch

Columbia

Pub Date: 12/13/98

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