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School board: All outside students who applied can enroll at Rockland Woods

June 12, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- All families who asked to send children to Rockland Woods Elementary School from outside the attendance zone will be accepted, the school board decided Monday.

The Washington County Board of Education's decision trumps a staff recommendation to turn away 25 of the 53 children whose families applied by the June 1 deadline.

An administrator said the extra students could make some classes at the new school too large, especially in kindergarten and first grade.

But Donna Brightman, the board's vice president, argued against filtering out applicants, since the board previously offered open enrollment.

"I think it's what we promised," she said.

During an informal vote, Brightman and board members William H. Staley, Roxanne R. Ober, Paul W. Bailey and Wayne D. Ridenour supported letting all 53 children go to Rockland Woods.

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Only board member Bernadette M. Wagner said she opposed the idea.

Board member Ruth Anne Callaham was absent.

The school system put out a call for applications this year to help fill the school off Sharpsburg Pike south of Hagerstown.

Even after redistricting, the new 750-seat school, which will open in August, only would be about two-thirds full, The Herald-Mail has reported.

The school board said in April that families outside the school's territory could ask to send their children there.

Ober, the board president, said after Monday's meeting that the wording of the earlier invitation was not precise.

She said the school system's policy allows "special permission" to be given for students to attend other schools, but the Rockland Woods invitation was characterized as open enrollment, which is not part of the policy.

When the topic came up in April, Wagner said the school system has tried to limit the number of special-permission transfers between schools. She said a cap on the number of student transfers into Rockland Woods was needed and suggested that transfers only be allowed for certain grades.

On Monday, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Instruction Michael Markoe recommended that only students from schools whose enrollment is over their state-rated capacity be accepted at Rockland Woods. That would cover 28 of the 53 possible new students.

Other students could be placed on a waiting list.

Allowing all 53 would create some large classes, Markoe said.

Figures he shared with the board showed that open enrollment would increase Rockland Woods' student-teacher ratio to 27 to 1 from 22.5 to 1 for kindergarten.

It would rise to 28.3 to 1 from 25 to 1 for first grade.

Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said the new school has spacious classrooms and the school system will manage the influx of students.

"We'll be fine," she said.

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