At the Howard County Board of Education meeting on September 10th a motion by Zachary F Koung (Student Board Member of the Board of Education) that all School Resource Officers be removed from all HCPSS schools failed in a vote of 4-2-2 (Yea: Mavis Ellis, Jennifer Mallo, Sabina Taj, Zachary F Koung | Nay: Vicky Cutroneo, Christina Delmont-Small | Abstain: Kirsten A Coombs, Chao Wu).
The following information was provided by a Howard County community member (Steven Keller).
Note – the opinions noted below are that of the community member – I will add my thoughts at the end of the article.
Unexpected & Concerning Vote on Whether to Remove School Resource Officers from HCPSS Schools
At the beginning of the September 10, 2020 HCPSS meeting, the Board of Education strayed off the agenda and held a surprising vote on whether or not to remove School Resource Officers (SROs) from HCPSS schools.
Regardless of whether you believe SROs should stay in schools or be removed, the act of taking this vote last night and the way that the motion was presented should concern every HCPSS stakeholder.
All clips from this section of last night’s HCPSS meeting can be found below, in sequential order:
- Superintendent Martirano Remarks on SROs in Schools: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QH0GiCQEfjY
- Mavis Ellis Black Lives Matter Statement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROoEwdGkXeg
- Student Member of the Board Proposes Motion to Remove SROs from Schools: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AEgXBj5_mI
- Chao Wu Opinion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmLlt2ZBj1A
- Kirsten Coombs Opinion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hv0MGOcEemQ
- Mark Blom HCPSS Legal Opinion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQY-Iw1Sva4
- Jen Mallo Friendly Amendment and Mark Blom Legal Opinion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXMEyVedEp4
- Sabina Taj Opinion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48QmA439Mo4
- Vicky Cutroneo Opinion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z41DlopLZ14
- Christina Delmont Small Opinion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mz4h4Q4F0fU
- Jen Mallo Followup Comments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0mK2Su2NhQ
- Mavis Ellis Opinion, Chao Wu Concerns, and Final Vote: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsWncTWkeuQ
Superintendent Martirano set the table for this controversial vote in his opening report to the Board by bringing up the topic and announcing that he is open to examining the role that SROs play in HCPSS schools while students are in fully virtual mode. It should be noted that Dr. Martirano stated the following:
“I would ask the Board to hold off on taking any positions until we’ve had a chance to work with our county and police department leaders to engage our community as we review this partnership”
Board Chairwoman Mavis Ellis then made a personal speech regarding the Black Lives Matters movement prior to general Board member reports.
The Student Member of the Board then went on to make a motion to remove all SROs from HCPSS schools, since he was so moved by Ms. Ellis’s speech and since he had promised his supporters that he “wouldn’t stand neutral in the sights of injustice”. Board member Sabina Taj quickly seconded the motion, with a noticeable lack of hesitation.
The Board then proceeded to discuss the motion, with at least 4 members of the Board having been completely blindsided by this motion (Wu, Cutroneo, Delmont-Small and Coombs). These Board members expressed their deep concerned with its procedural disregard and premature proposal before any alternative school safety plans had been developed.
Three concerns were raised by Board members who were blindsided by this motion:
1) Disregard of process — the issue of removing SROs from HCPSS schools had not been locally studied at all. Superintendent Martirano himself clearly had said just moments earlier that he requested the Board to not take a position on the matter until the issue had been reivewed with local county & police leadership, and after full community input had been received. Just as important, a suitable alternative school safety plan would be needed before the decision to remove SROs from schools and doesn’t currently exist.
2) Risks to students & staff safety — while students are in fully virtual mode, some staff are still in buildings. Voting to immediately remove SROs from schools would put at further risk anyone currently in HCPSS building since no adequate alternative plan had yet been developed.
3) The possibility that the motion had been pre-planned by select members of the Board prior to the meeting and without the cognizance of the full Board.
In video clip 12 above, BOE member Wu expresses deep concern about this, stating:
“I was totally surprised by this motion. I was wondering if you had some discussion before this motion. Did the Superintendent get involved? I’m just totally surprised that this has come out without supporting materials”
Kirsten Coombs and Vicky Cutroneo nodded in passive agreement at this deep concern.
Chair Ellis had no reply to this and just proceeded to call for the final vote.
The speed with which a meaty Baltimore Sun article was posted regarding this vote and overarching issue only increased this concern that not only had pre-planning between a select few Board members potentially taken place, but members of the media may have been given a heads up about this issue being covered at the meeting before all of the Board members themselves were made aware: https://www.facebook.com/groups/HoCoNU/permalink/2822069924683713/
In the end, four members of the Board voted to remove SROs from HCPSS schools (Mavis Ellis, Sabina Taj, Jen Mallo, and the Student Member), two members abstained (Chao Wu and Kirsten Coombs) and two members voted NO (Vicky Cutroneo and Christina Delmont-Small).
The fact that four members of the Board, particularly one who is up for re-election (Jen Mallo), voted to remove SROs from HCPSS schools without any studies conducted, without any alternative school safety plans lined up to replace SRO support, and in complete disregard of standard procedure, possibly with exclusive small-group pre-planning, is something that should concern all HCPSS stakeholders.
This is not how the Howard County Board of Education should operate.
I thought it would be good to share the short videos noted in the information above in this article so that the community could hear from each board member on this topic.
Zach Koung (Student Board Member of the Board of Education) joined the Torrey Snow show on WBAL on September 11th to discuss this topic (listen in at the 51:40 mark of the audio clip): http://www.wbal.com/podcasts/channel/torrey-snow/112e0dc5-2678-4e01-8b67-4232ba3fa256
There has been a lot posted on social media since this board meeting. As noted in this article above the Howard County Times had an article…also some elected officials have posted statements, some candidates for HoCoBOE in 2020 have posted statements and even bloggers and community members have weighed in at various points on various platforms.
I have a couple of thoughts:
- Those making negative comments at the Student Board Member for submitting this motion need to chill out. This member of the board had every right to make the motion and there should be no reason to make negative comments about the student member making a motion they believe in. I do not care what side of this issue you are on.
- I am happy this motion failed on the 10th. I am not happy because I am on one side or the other of this issue…but because this is not the way an issue this important should happen. We should have notification to the community that this issue is coming before the board, we should have testimony from the Howard County Police Department, we should have testimony from advocacy groups, we should have public input from our community and we should be 100% sure we are following the law (as noted by one school board member and even noted by the Howard County State’s Attorney online). I believe that if our elected officials on the board, school system leaders, parents and students believe it is time to end this program in the schools and that is what comes out of a public discussion of this issue then end the program (and then tell us what the plan is going forward for the safety of the children in the schools)…but lets make sure we involve everyone in the community before we make a move of this significance.
Those are my thoughts this morning.
It looks like this issue will be coming before the board again very soon (maybe on September 24th). I have not seen an agenda for that meeting but will be on the look out for it.