The emphasis on the improvement of writing skills begun in Prince William County's high schools last year will be brought this year into the middle and elementary schools.

Called "Writing as a Process," the program will include more writing in all classes and will encourage students to organize their thoughts before putting them on paper.

Grammar, spelling and punctuation will be considered after the writing itself is evaluated.

Members of each class will be asked to write a paper during school time at the end of each semester. The paper will be used to determine if the program is working, according to school spokeswoman Kristy Larson.

The county's returning high school students will find a change in the grading scale: Plus marks have been added to A, B, C and D grades to "motivate students to do better," Larson said.

In addition, the county School Board has implemented a change in the smoking code. Beginning this year, ninth graders will not be issued smoking passes. Last year, high school students could smoke outdoors on school grounds with a signed permission slip from parents or guardians. Within three years no smoking will be allowed, Larson said.

Students can also look for a change in the drug code. Any student caught selling or distributing drugs of any kind, including over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin, will be recommended for expulsion, Larson said.

In the past, Prince William expelled only those students who sold or distributed illegal drugs.

Last year the state Department of Education mandated that all students know the parts of a computer and understand how computers operate.

To that end, the Prince William School Board has purchased additional computers, and middle school students will have extra time on computers beginning this year, Larson said.

The goal is to meet state requirements that the class of 1988 master computer skills before graduation.

The Loudoun County School Board is expected to make its decision next week on the issue of expanding sex education courses into all four high schools. Also, the board is to consider whether sex education should be taken out of the home economics curriculum and put into social studies to ensure that boys as well as girls will take the elective courses.

Parental permission will be necessary, according to school spokeswoman Molly Converse.

Other curriculum revisions include a strengthening of the language arts and English courses in grades six through 12.

In the high schools, students can look for stronger courses in mathematics, language arts and the sciences to meet the state Department of Education's more stringent graduation requirements, which call for 20 class units instead of 18.

In addition to the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax, which will admit 12 Loudoun County students this year, Gov. Charles S. Robb has established a magnet school for the performing arts at the Shenandoah Conservatory and College in Winchester. Students from Loudoun, Clark, Warren and Shenandoah counties as well as Winchester who are interested in the performing arts may apply for the courses, which are given on weekends and after school. According to Converse, details of the courses and how many Loudoun students will be accepted have not been determined.

Manassas Park High School students are expected to be pleased about a recent School Board action that rescinded a regulation approved in the spring requiring them to maintain a C average to participate in sports. Pressure from students and parents was instrumental in the School Board's decision to return to Virginia High School League rules that require a passing (D) grade in at least four classes in order to participate in extracurricular activities. School Board members Alma Dunn and Grant Jones resigned their posts two weeks ago in protest of the action, according to school superintendent Jimmy Stuart.

Manassas Park high school students will be offered a new chemistry course designed for the student who is not college-bound. Called "Consumer Chemistry," it will teach students a practical knowledge of the subject, Stuart said.

The Manassas Park elementary school system has been restructured to make up for a $242,000 budget cut last spring. Under the new plan, grades one through three will attend Manassas Park Elementary School and grades four through six will attend Connor Elementary. According to Stuart, the restructuring will decrease the average class size from 25 to 18 and has eliminated four teacher positions through attrition. No teachers were laid off, Stuart said.

Manassas High School students this year will not have to be transported to other sites to take vocational education courses -- the new vocational education wing to the city's high schoool is open. The school is in the process of expanding its science laboratory to help it meet toughened state graduation standards.

Stafford middle school students who have in the past been taught language arts in one period will find that course extended to two periods this year to accommodate a greater emphasis on reading and writing composition, according to associate principal Norval Waugh. To do this without lengthening the school day extensively, the other six periods will be shortened by 10 minutes, Waugh said. Because elementary pupils take the same buses home as the middle school pupils, elementary pupils will be in their own classes a little longer so that they will be ready to leave at the same time, he said. The school day will be longer by 10 minutes.

The Stafford county administration is considering the implementation of an elective English program that will take a "more traditional approach" to the subject. In addition, an honors English program may be instituted. Those decisions will be made before school opens Aug. 26, Waugh said.

The focus in Fauquier County schools this year will be on the accreditation studies for high school graduation, according to Doris Standridge, assistant superintendent of instruction. An in-depth curriculum will be offered in Spanish and French in the high school and the four junior high schools that feed into it to ensure that those students will have the necessary background for the tougher courses, she said.

The computer curriculum has been revised from kindergarten through 12th grade to continue the focus on the new graduation requirements. Computer classes will have extensive involvement with the math, science, English and social studies curricula, particularly from seventh through 12th grades. Specialists in science, computers and reading are to work with teachers to assist them in achieving a consistency in those subjects countywide.

Standridge said a workshop for gifted students similar to the one offered this summer is planned for the winter semester. Other students who want enrichment of their regular courses will be given the opportunity to participate, she said.