After nearly a month of wrestling with the topic, the Prince William County School Board has voted to leave alone, for now, the order of its social studies courses -- however imperfect.

School Board members agreed that the current setup needs work because too many students are failing World History and Geography From 1500, a ninth-grade course considered difficult because of the amount of material it must cover. But a proposal that would shift the course to 10th grade and make it optional was an poor solution, most board members believed.

"What I don't want to see is a significant number of students taking less history than they're already taking, especially world history," said board member Don Richardson (Gainesville).

Richardson, along with four other board members, voted to postpone a decision on the social studies curriculum indefinitely. Superintendent Edward L. Kelly said staff will take the proposal back and "we'll see what we can come up with."

The debate over how to order the courses prompted vigorous debate among board members, who postponed a decision once before. Even Kelly took a contrary view, though he did not express it until pressed by board member Steven Keen (Woodbridge). While supporting his staff members, Kelly said his personal inclination was against their recommendation: He would make World History and Geography From 1500 a required course, whether offered to freshmen or sophomores.

"I really do think modern history should be a requirement. It influences kids more than anything else. World History II, American History and American Government are the most important histories we offer," Kelly said after the meeting.

The vote to postpone a decision on the proposal was 5 to 2, with the Coles district seat vacant. Board members Lucy S. Beauchamp (At Large) and Stephen R. Wassenberg (Occoquan) voted against postponement, but for different reasons.

Beauchamp said the proposal had so many open questions that school staff should start over; Wassenberg said he was ready to support the proposal as presented. Prince William requires students to take World History and Geography to 1500, commonly called World History I, in eighth grade. World History and Geography From 1500, or World History II, is given to ninth-graders. The proposal would require World History I for freshmen and leave World History II as an option for sophomores.

In addition, students could potentially skip both world history courses, by taking World Geography in ninth grade and no social studies course in 10th grade.

Bruce Leiby, curriculum supervisor for social studies, said as many as one-third of freshmen fail World History II. Once students are successful in the World History I course, they would be more likely to sign up for World History II, he told board members.

Critics said that students could miss what they considered the most important history course under the proposal: history of the modern age. "I fear that this proposal will kind of push world history from 1500 off the edge," said board member Lyle G. Beefelt (Brentsville.)

But Joan R. Ferlazzo (Dumfries), who teaches World History I to freshmen in Stafford County, said the staff suggestion to move World History I out of the middle school to ninth grade had merit because it would give students a chance to pass a Standards of Learning test in high school. Beginning with the class of 2007, students will have to pass at least one history SOL test to graduate.

"The history SOLs are horrible," Ferlazzo said. "World History I is the easiest of those SOLs to pass. It's one under their belt, considering how many they're going to need to get out of high school."