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:

  1. Superintendent Martirano Remarks on SROs in Schools: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QH0GiCQEfjY
  2. Mavis Ellis Black Lives Matter Statement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROoEwdGkXeg
  3. Student Member of the Board Proposes Motion to Remove SROs from Schools: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AEgXBj5_mI
  4. Chao Wu Opinion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmLlt2ZBj1A
  5. Kirsten Coombs Opinion:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hv0MGOcEemQ
  6. Mark Blom HCPSS Legal Opinion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQY-Iw1Sva4
  7. Jen Mallo Friendly Amendment and Mark Blom Legal Opinion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXMEyVedEp4
  8. Sabina Taj Opinion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48QmA439Mo4
  9. Vicky Cutroneo Opinion:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z41DlopLZ14
  10. Christina Delmont Small Opinion:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mz4h4Q4F0fU
  11. Jen Mallo Followup Comments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0mK2Su2NhQ
  12. 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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Scott E

10 COMMENTS

  1. ” this is not the way an issue this important should happen. ”
    ” This is not how the Howard County Board of Education should operate. ”

    I TOTALLY agree.
    Is this how other BOE across the country operate? I don’t know.

    HoCo States Attorney – Rich Gibson’s opinion (warning)
    ” I am in favor of SROs. Moreover in light of the Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018 I believe it would be difficult to remove SROs from our schools. “

  2. As the county becomes increasing polarized with each side attempting to be the loudest and nastiest voice, where does this all end? Our children’s education seems to be increasingly a game to be won or lost on social media or between political parties as a proxy war for what we are seeing nationally, where absolutism is the only acceptable position. The BoE is becoming a mirror image of the Supreme Court with supposed Conservative and Liberal factions, where if one strays from either side, they are criticized for not adhering to dogma. The issues facing the board are complex, not talking points to rack up progressive or conservative victory points to show off to fellow believers. Especially on SROs, reasonable people can disagree on this and not be either racist on the one hand or unwilling to protect our children on the other. I wish I could be optimistic, but BoE politics is entering the equivalent of WWI trench warfare with no end in sight. Leadership is needed here. Either the community must stand up and accept that not every decision is going to go an individual’s way or the BoE itself must stand up and make that known. These are our friends and neighbors here, people you pass by at the Giant, walking in Patapsco, in the stands at Howard High, at the various houses of worship throughout the county. They are not the cartoon figures of Fox News or CNN or MSNBC. Let’s find some way to Choose Civility before it is too late.

  3. Would you please consider noting when you post something like this that the opinion commentary is coming from the president of a political advocacy organization that has a specific agenda against many on the school board over the redistricting.

    In specific this commentary is coming from the president of HOCONU (formerly the Facebook group named: “Howard County School Redistricting Opposition”). Not only should the opinions be questioned but so should the overall narrative.

  4. Regardless, if you watched any person with common sense can see that the commentary matches that of what has actually taken place. Regardless of someone being a part of any group, you should be less concerned of this commenter position and more concerned with what groups your BOE members being influenced by. Our childrens education are at risk in a political game where even members of the BOE are playing to get elected or re elected.

  5. While I have no particular stance on this issue, I feel this sets a dangerous precedent for the Board. I feel that no Board member should be able to spring such a topic, especially such a polarizing one at this point in time, to a majority vote so quickly and suddenly. It would not have been an issue if testimony was heard beforehand, from police and anti-police advocates on how it should be settled, but this manner of flaunting evidence and facts is concerning. While I can understand the SMOB’s decision, I cannot sympathize with it, as I feel it was rash and impulsive. What disgusted me more was how I feel he was egged on my certain members of the board, to keep going with this. These are adults, using someone younger than them as a prop to further their agenda. I find that revolting across the political spectrum, whether left, right, or center. What concerns me most about all of this is the press coverage of this event. It is not portrayed as a sudden jack-in-the-box surprise, but as something inevitable, and that if any of them voted “nay” or “abstain,” then they would be cast in the most bigoted light possible. It leads me to believe that there was some sort of preordained meeting, a collusion of sorts, to cast four members of the board as “enemies of the people.” Overall, this is a mess, handled poorly by almost the entire board, as it spits in the face of balanced judgement, and seems to suggest a true lack of leadership in the Board; they must be reminded that they are representatives of their county’s students, of the people who must live under their policies. To hold this inflammatory giraffe court in such a way is an outright shame to the populace.

  6. I totally agree with you Scott. This is an extremely important issue and no matter what side you fall on, it needs more discussion. I remember how long it took to get these SROs in the schools. And with one swift vote they would decide to take them out, without any data on to back up the request??

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