Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Silence of Good People

Something that has been weighing on my mind for some time is the fate of the employees who work in the Central Office of the Howard County School System. They, along with Department Heads whose offices may be elsewhere, and school administrators, are the most immediately affected by the decisions and behavior of upper level management. In a heavily top-down system, when the ball gets rolling, it rolls directly onto them.

Tom Coale's post on HoCoRising, "My Questions for the Howard County Board of Education", spurred me to write about this topic. He asks:
  1. On February 4, 2016, were HCPSS administrators instructed via text message to remain in their chairs after the budget discussion? If so, why? Also, were school principals directed to attend the contract renewal meeting? If so, why?
  2. Were HCPSS personnel directed to testify regarding state legislation that would have elected future Board members by district? Did the Administration use HCPSS email to coordinate this effort? If so, please explain the educational interest in defeating this legislation. If not, please explain this video.
  3. Does HCPSS have a policy regarding the utilization of HCPSS personnel for political purposes? Is there a policy regarding the use of HCPSS e-mail for political lobbying, political speech, or coordination of political action?
  4. Can a principal or administrator be fired or demoted for failure to comply with a political directive?
He puts these questions under the heading, Utilization of HCPSS Personnel for Political Purposes.

I have another question. How many of these employees, when signing on to work for the school system, thought that they would be forced to be pawns in a political game which would pit them against teachers, parents, and the community? Who on earth would aspire to such a goal? Who would volunteer to be the enforcers of policies they did not choose and possibly did not believe in?

Yes, I know, taking direction and "other duties as assigned" are always things that come with the job, but, as Tom Coale's piece outlines, just exactly what that means when it comes to hcpss has morphed into something that borders on malevolent. We take perfectly good people and ask them to commit professional malpractice. We appeal to the worst instincts of administrators who were once teachers and mold them into adversaries of their own communities.

We take people whose moral and religious beliefs are rock solid and admired and we make them get up and lie to parents in public meetings.

Why do they do this? Why don't they speak out, or just quit? We don't really know what goes on out there. I suspect that some have. But these are people just like us: they have families, mortgages, medical needs, maybe kids headed to college. They can't afford to leave a job if it means getting a bad reference. Could you?

As much as we have a strong responsibility to our students, families, and teachers, we also have a responsibility to these people. Someone needs to be willing to give them a voice. I would hazard a guess that many of them are doing what they do motivated largely by fear. This environment of coercion and fear sets a tone which is bad for the entire school system.

Please vote to bring new leadership to the Howard County Board of Education. We have a choice, and a responsibility, to do better than this.

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