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Teachers union to school board: Seek mediation or quit

Seek mediation, or considering resigning. That's the suggestion the Howard County Education Association is making to the Board of Education following last week's vote on a new middle school program of studies, which included a contentious debate that some board members, and HCEA President Paul Lemle, called embarrassing.

At its representative council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 14, the HCEA approved a resolution denouncing recent board behavior, calling for professional assistance to restore the board's ability to effectively govern. The resolution called for Lemle to draft a letter to the board, requesting members seek mediation or conflict resolution.

"Their personal animosity has made it impossible to do their jobs," Lemle said Monday. "At the moment they vote on something that's very important to thousands of people, to have this boiled-over dispute over whether or not somebody can vote or participate via conference call, that becomes the issue.

"They're deciding something of critical importance to thousands of teachers, thousands of students and thousands of parents, and they make it about them."

The board voted 5-3 Thursday, Feb. 9 to restructure the middle school schedule and curriculum. The plan, which will eliminate traditional, required, standalone reading classes for the majority of the student population, had drawn criticism from HCEA since the plan was first proposed in November 2011.

The proposal initially failed on a 4-4 vote on Jan. 26. Board member Brian Meshkin, who had previously voted against the proposal, voted to pass it last week. He made his vote via teleconference from California, and the nature of his participation spurred the contentious debate. (See accompanying stories.)

In a draft of the letter, HCEA offered suggestions for the board to handle disagreements respectfully, such as the use of a parliamentarian, of the Mediation and Conflict Resolution Center at Howard Community College or assistance from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

Lemle said the letter would be from both HCEA and the PTA Council of Howard County. The letter could be sent as early as Thursday, Feb. 16. The PTA Council of Howard County is scheduled to vote on the resolution Wednesday night.

"We make no distinction among you in the assertion that each member is to blame for the behavior exhibited by the body," a draft of the letter states. "If you are unwilling to address your personal animosity toward your fellow member, it is you who must consider stepping away from this board, in the name of the public service for which you were elected."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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