SCHOOL OFFICIALS in Harford County, Maryland, are to be congratulated. They have decided that an eighth grade class in Pikesville can perform "Inherit the Wind," a play about freedom of speech, after all.

School Superintendent Alphonso A. Roberty, wanting to "avoid a controversy," had suspended production plans and appointed a committee to determine whether the drama was unsuitable for 13-year- olds. Teachers Thomas Berg and Virginia Huller could have told him: they said they chose "Inherit the Wind" for its topicality and its historical and literary value. Written during the McCarthy era, the play recreates the Scopes trial of 1925 that tested a Tennessee statute prohibiting the teaching of evolution. Playwright Robert E. Lee says he wrote the play "because of exactly this kind of restriction. That's what the play is about; not the Bible but freedom of thought and freedom of expression of thought." Certainly there are plays you would not want the eighth grade putting on. But "Inherit the Wind" is not "Oh! Calcutta!" or "The Boys in the Band." It's not Soviet propaganda or bedroom farce, but an eloquent statement about American values and academic freedom. It was produced, moreover, without any community opposition by the North Harford Junior-Senior High School in 1975.

Had there been a dramatic change of public sentiment since? Apparently not, for there was no community objection to the production this year. It's just that the superintendent got nervous. A public discussion of his decision and recommendation of a specially appointed advisory board of school officials has persuaded him that eighth graders don't need to be "protected" from a play that examines the nature and value of free speech.