Despite pleas by parents and students last week that middle-school drama classes not be dropped in favor of expanding the engineering-tech curriculum, the Board of Education Monday night unanimously approved the plan.

The approved plan, which was recommended by the schools' administration, calls for replacing the eighth-grade Drama and Presentation classes with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classes starting next year.

"I view STEM very differently than just building the next generation of scientists and engineers," Mark Mathias, board member, said prior to the vote. Mathias said he believes the STEM program promotes problem-solving, creativity and innovation in students. "It's not going far enough," he said. "Why shouldn't this be part of the art curriculum?" he asked. "There should not be a division between science and art."

Mathias said he would only be "in favor" of the administrative proposal if it embraces the arts. He said the program should foster collaboration between the arts and science, and suggested the program be called STEAM with an "A" for art added to the acronym.

"What I'm saying is that next year, when we have this discussion I want the A in STEM," he added.

"Design and engineering does call out for the arts," added Lis Comm, director of middle school education. "I completely agree with you," she told Mathias.

But not all board members were in total agreement with the proposal. Board member Brett Aronow said she didn't want the eighth-graders to lose their Drama/Presentation classes. "Some students, like my son, who is afraid to speak out, benefit the most from those classes," she said.

Board member Michael Gordon said he sees both STEM and the drama classes as vital to students and part of the school system's vision for 2025. "It looks like we are choosing one over the other," he said.

Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon said eighth-graders would be losing only 18 sessions, or four hours, of drama/presentation a year, that include prescribed monologues, directing and scene study.

He said the administration had reviewed other courses that could be cut -- including physical education, music and health classes -- but felt those had to be preserved for a number of reasons. He said health classes not only include information about suicide prevention, but also discussion about the threat of AIDS and other issues that aren't theoretical.

"That left us with drama presentation skills," he said of the potential cuts needed to accommodate STEM..

The board held off voting on the proposal last week to give members more time to review the proposal. Board members debated the matter for another two hours Monday night.

When Board Chairwoman Elaine Whitney made a motion to "adopt the administration's recommendation for the STEM program," she also suggested attaching an amendment to refer to the program as STEAM, following Mathias' recommendation.

But board Vice Chairwoman Jeannie Smith said she didn't feel that name change should be adopted.

Landon agreed. "It's not fair to call it what it isn't," he said.

Whitney returned to the original motion, which all six members approved.