Father Gets His Wish: Md. District Permits Boy To Repeat 8th Grade

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A Howard County, Md., man who fought the local public school system to allow his son to repeat the 8th grade claimed victory last week.

Four days into the new school year, Howard County Superintendent Michael E. Hickey reversed his earlier decision to require the boy to move on to the 9th grade.

"I'm glad to go back to school," 14-year-old Robert Merriman IV said in an interview last week. The boy had been staying at home in protest while he and his father awaited Mr. Hickey's decision.

School officials had promoted the boy despite a request from his father that he remain in 8th grade.

Robert Merriman III said that when his son moved from a neighboring Maryland school system into the Howard County district, the boy's grades dropped from A's and B's to C's and D's.

"He's been a year behind for three years," Mr. Merriman said. "It is an overwhelming task for him to catch up when he's that far behind."

Mr. Merriman filed for a court injunction to demand his son's retention on Aug. 22, just three days before classes began for Howard County's 40,200 students. Following the advice of his lawyer, Mr. Merriman then dropped the court action and pursued an administrative appeal--a move that brought immediate and positive results.

"I was rather surprised to get the call," Mr. Merriman said. "I didn't think it was going to take place this quick."

Robert, who was put on a home schooling program that covered math and reading--his weakest subjects--was pleased at the prospect of going back to school even though most of his friends are now in high school.

"I'll miss not being with my friends," he said, but added that he values his education even more.

Shared Decision

The decision to repeat a grade was a joint decision that he made with his father, he said.

In Howard County, school board policy allows parents the right to make the final decision concerning the retention or nonretention of their children.

"We like to make decisions in conjunction with the parent," said Patti Caplan, a spokeswoman for the Howard County district, which is located in the Washington suburbs.

In this case, there was a misunderstanding in the appeals process, she said. Once the injunction request was filed, things got blown up even more.

"It was a failure to communicate," Ms. Caplan said. "When parents take legal action, it puts up barriers to communication."

PHOTO: Robert Merriman III, left, of Maryland, had to fight to keep his son, Robert Merriman IV, from being promoted to the 9th grade.
--Jed Kirschbaum/Baltimore Sun

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