Monday, December 7, 2020

New Board, Old Woes


Today new members of the Board of Education will be sworn in. Returning Board Member Vicky Cutroneo shared the following on her Facebook account and I think it is helpful:

Tomorrow new members of the Board of Education will be sworn in.  It will begin at 3:15pm and will be televised on Howard County Comcast channel 95 or Verizon channel 42 and web streamed live at 

Per law, swearing in must be done in person, so the ceremony is starting early to allow new Board Members time to travel home for meeting which begins at 4pm.   All health and safety precautions will be followed.

Order of swearing-in:

Antonia Watts

Jolene Mosley

Jennifer Mallo

Christina Delmont-Small 

Dr. Yun Lu 

Once the swearing-in ceremony has been completed, Dr. Martirano will state the meeting is recess.  Once all Board members presence is confirmed, the Board meeting will begin with me calling the meeting to order and then turning it over to Dr. Martirano for the election of officers.

 Election of Officers:

 A ballot system has been devised via Survey Monkey to allow virtual confidential and anonymous elections for Chair and Vice Chair.

 Once the election of officers is over, the new Chair will then take over the meeting. 

Normally newly elected Board members have an opportunity immediately following the swearing-in to make brief comments. Since we are virtual, that is not possible. Therefore, all comments will be made during Board Member Reports, which is on the agenda.

Believe it or not, there was a time when I lamented ever being able to draw the general public into conversations about the school system and longed for a time when parents were energized to get involved on important issues. It turns out that covered-up issues of mold, misappropriation of funds, and manipulation of board members were nowhere near so sexy as redistricting and distance learning. 

Live and learn.

I remember a Board swearing-in, not so long ago, when I felt so hopeful. Not all of that hope was wasted. But our community, in regards to how we treat education, has fallen quite a bit in my estimation since then.

Now public focus on the Board has become a spectator sport and everyone has an opinion that must be shared on social media. If their opinion is found to be unacceptable in the online community where they post it, they go find a more negatively-charged community. The circle of insult, rumor, smear, and innuendo feeds on itself. People report things as fact that they have seen posted only as an opinion.

I read an open letter to the community in one such social media group written by a parent. Let me stress that I believe that all parents have a right to opinions about our school system. I don’t know this person and I can’t possibly evaluate her background or motives. But her words struck me because they reveal some underlying  attitudes that I think we, as a wider community, need to address.

The two points I’ll focus on are:

Focus on education, not SRO removal.


Focus on students, not just teachers.

Both of these statements betray a complete lack of understanding of the deep interconnectedness between different components that make up the school system. No one issue exists in a vacuum. It may be possible as a parent to believe that they do, but that perspective is not an informed or educated one. It’s not helpful to making any policy decisions whatsoever.

If you want to express an opinion, step right up. If you want to influence policy, you need to know your stuff.

In short, the practice of policing in schools has been a long term source of limiting and damaging educational experiences for Black and Brown students. The more we learn the more we see how devastating this is for these students. If focusing on education is a top priority, then removing SRO’s is at the top of the list. Get it done now. Not acting to address this is actually remaining complicit in educational malpractice. That’s what this letter writer is requesting. 

“I would like the Board to remain complicit in the mistreatment of Black and Brown students because I am white and it doesn’t affect me.”

Next up: focus on students, not just teachers.

This may make a great sound bite but it is preposterous. Everything that the school system does is for the students. My husband is working days, nights and weekends to try to meet his students’ needs thorough distance learning. It isn’t perfect, it is never perfect, but the thought that there is something going on where teachers have become prioritized over students is an unmitigated falsehood.

Let’s understand how this all works. Imagine you are going to make dinner. You go to your kitchen and survey what you have in your refrigerator and and your pantry. And then you work with what you’ve got.

Our teachers are our learning professionals, who are engaged in relationships with students, families, colleagues, and so on, all over this county. Any plans for distance learning, hybrid plans, returning in person, must be made collaboratively with them. To be blunt: that’s what’ s in the fridge. That’s what’s for dinner, one way or another. Our community has invested in recruiting, hiring, training, supporting our teachers and we often say how great they are when it troubles us no more than a Target gift card to say so.

When we are forced to acknowledge them as equals in a time of crisis when we feel inconvenienced, our commitment to taking as much responsibility for the good of our children as they do shows itself to be very...thin.

If you think you can focus on education without eliminating SRO’s, and if you think the problem is that we’re focusing on teachers more than students, you aren’t actually trafficking in facts. I can defend your right to express your opinion, but that is as far as it goes.

The new Board will be sworn in tonight. I know some of them more than others and I do believe they all sincerely want to do a good job. I have zero interest in conspiracy theories about backroom deals for Board chair and I think focusing on things like that seriously pollutes the overall conversation.

Demonizing anyone - - board members, the SMOB, teachers, HCEA leaders - - seems to be the way that many are trying to make their own deeply flawed opinions look better. Their logic appears to be, “but look at how awful ******* is! Did you hear ******?” 

That’s no way to begin a new time of service out on Route 108, folks. Let’s listen, learn, and use those valuable critical thinking skills we learned in school.

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