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Peterson resigns from Anne Arundel school board ethics panel

Former Anne Arundel County school board member Eugene Peterson formally resigned Tuesday from the school system's ethics panel, less than a week after the board requested he step down for comments made at June meeting where he referred to interim superintendent Mamie Perkins as "Aunt Jemima."

Peterson, who is African-American, said he sent a resignation letter Tuesday to school board president Stacy Korbelak, one of six board members that approved a resolution censuring Peterson for his comments.

The censure stems from a June 4 meeting in which Perkins, who is African-American, announced plans to reorganize the system's Office of Equity and Human Relations, an office that has been a liaison between the school system and the community on issues related to achievement and discipline gaps for minority students.

Dozens criticized the move, including Peterson, who accused board members of "hiding behind Stepin Fetchit and Aunt Jemima" in proposing the change — references widely regarded as denigrating caricatures for African-Americans. Peterson later acknowledged that his comments referred to Perkins as Aunt Jemima and African-American males in the school system who played a role in the realignment as Stepin Fetchit.

The board said in its resolution that Peterson "demonstrated his poor judgment and his willingness to employ derogatory and despicable language to describe highly regarded and well respected public officials."

But in Peterson's resignation letter, he mentioned an incident that occurred after his comments at the June meeting — after taking his seat, he had been confronted by then school board member Solon Webb, who stood over Peterson and called him an "ignorant man." Webb then returned to his seat.

Peterson said Webb's action should have been addressed as well.

"I am still troubled that the BOE has refused to review and publicly comment on the outrageous behavior of board member Solon Webb that occurred at the July 9 BOE meeting," Peterson said in his letter. "His actions are on videotape and once reviewed should result in at minimum a public apology on his part for his actions or at best disciplinary action from the BOE."

Peterson said he will continue to attend board meetings and request that the school board and Superintendent George Arlotto "come up with a plan to eliminate the achievement gap."

Korbelak said the school board will discuss a replacement for Peterson on Aug. 20 in closed session. She said a candidate will be offered the position, and if accepted, Peterson's replacement can be appointed Sept. 3, during a public board meeting.

Peterson's replacement will finish out his term, which ends June 30, 2015, Korbelak said. She said the replacement could be reappointed for another three-year term.

"I am pleased that Mr. Peterson did as the board requested," Korbelak said, "because it allows the board and the school system to move forward past this unfortunate episode."

She declined to comment on Peterson's statement regarding Webb.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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