After weeks of controversy, the Howard County Board of Education late Thursday voted 5-3 to pass a proposed middle school program that eliminates formal reading classes in favor of project-based modules for some students and seminars and intervention programs for others.
Three years of required reading instruction will be reduced to two quarters of instruction under the board's decision.
The meeting began amid a side dispute in which one member asked to be allowed to participate electronically, sparking a heated exchange toward the end of the meeting.
Brian Meshkin, who participated in the meeting by phone from California, changed his opposing vote of two weeks ago to one of support, joining board Chairwoman Sandy French, Vice Chairman Frank Aquinio and members Janet Siddiqui and Ellen Giles.
He voted with the majority after accusing some members of allowing him to participate in the meeting via telephone only because they thought he would vote in favor of the proposal.
French denied Meshkin's accusation and said she at no time asked Meshkin how he intended to vote, nor did anyone else share with her any suggestions of how he planned to vote.
Members Allen Dyer and Cindy Vaillancourt and student member Tomi Williams voted against the proposal.
As approved, the middle school program will fill many needs, school administrators maintained.
By instituting a seven, 50-minute period schedule, all 19 Howard County middle schools will run on the same schedule, as opposed to the hodgepodge of schedules now found across the system.
To better align with the impending Common Core State Standards, physical education class time will be increased; world language instruction will be added to the sixth-grade curriculum and, because of the five-minute time increase in class periods, instructional time in core subjects will be significantly increased over the school year.
One casualty, as many educators consider it, of the proposal, is the middle school program's dedicated reading class.
The time added to physical education classes and the time needed for the new world language program had to come from somewhere, and school officials cut the only thing that could reasonably be cut, Howard County education Association President Paul Lemle said.
The association, though content with compromises that have been worked out over the past several weeks, particularly in regard to preserving negotiated teacher planning periods, remained opposed to the elimination of the dedicated reading classes.
Lemle said he was surprised and disappointed by the vote, and is worried about this year's fifth-graders who are "OK" readers now.
He is concerned about a school board that can "just throw away 10 quarters — two and a half years — of reading instruction when no one knows the effects of that decision.
"There will be no mulligan for next year's sixth-graders," Lemle said after the meeting. "I feel like I was the only honest guy in that room tonight."