By Liz Bowie, The Baltimore Sun
10:13 PM EDT, September 23, 2013
The Howard County father whose arrest became a viral web video and a cause celebre of conservative talk radio won't be prosecuted for disrupting a meeting on state education standards.
The Baltimore County state's attorney's office dropped assault charges Monday against Robert Small, who had been led out of the Thursday night meeting in Towson by an off-duty police officer. Small interrupted education officials, complaining that new standards were aimed at sending children to community colleges.
"It was clear that Mr. Small violated the rules of the meeting and disrupted the meeting. It was also clear that the officer acted appropriately and did have probable cause to make an arrest on both charges," the state's attorney's office said in a statement. "In the interest of justice, further prosecution will not accomplish anything more. Therefore, the charges have been dismissed."
Small, 46, has been discussed on Glenn Beck's radio show. Sean Hannity has reached out to him. Two lawyers offered to take his case for free, and people from across the country have sent emails offering help, while others have just written to praise him for standing up at the meeting. Maryland politicians have jumped in to defend Small and discredit the handling of the public meeting.
A relative unknown until Friday, Small's case spread over social media. A YouTube video of him being escorted out of the room by the police officer has been viewed more than 500,000 times.
In fact, it seemed that the only one not talking about it is Small. He gave a brief interview to The Baltimore Sun on Friday but has declined to comment since.
The Ellicott City father of two interrupted a public forum given by the Maryland State Department of Education on Thursday night at the Ridge Ruxton School on Charles Street in Towson. After a lengthy presentation by officials, members of the public were asked to submit their questions in writing. Baltimore County School Superintendent Dallas Dance then scanned the pile of questions and picked out ones to be read aloud.
A panel, which included state schools Superintendent Lillian Lowery, then answered the questions.
But Small wasn't satisfied that his question would be answered so he stood and interrupted Dance. He said he believed the new standards would lower expectations for students and that teaching would be aimed at getting students to community colleges rather than Harvard.
After being told, "Let's go," by an officer, Small continued to talk to the parents, saying, "Don't sit there like cattle." A Baltimore County police officer, who was working as a security guard, escorted Small out of the room, arrested him and charged him with assaulting a police officer and disturbing a school activity.
In an interview Friday morning, Small did not criticize the police actions but said he had a First Amendment right to speak. Small graduated from Baltimore County public schools, went on to a community college and got his four-year degree from the University of Maryland, College Park.
He said he is employed by the federal government and his two children attend Howard County public schools.
Many conservatives oppose the implementation of the new Common Core standards on the grounds that it is a federal government intrusion into local school control. Beck and others have talked about the new standards for months.
On his Monday morning radio program, Beck said Small's arrest was "a warning sign to the American people. I believe my job is to tell you the signposts. My job is to tell you how far down this road are you and how much farther do you have to go. Not much."
State Del. Patrick L. McDonough characterized as "outrageous" the failure of education officials to give Small a chance to speak. The Baltimore County Republican plans to introduce legislation that would put a moratorium on the implementation of the Common Core standards in the county's schools. Del. Ron George, a Republican candidate for governor, said Monday he wants address the common core standards in the next General Assembly session.
"I think education is best handled at the local community level," McDonough said.
Maryland was one of 45 states and the District of Columbia to adopt the Common Core standards, which were written collectively by the National Governors Association and the association of chief state school officers. The Common Core is not a federal requirement, but the Obama administration offered financial incentives to states that implemented the standards.
The state has trained 7,000 teachers for three summers in a row in the standards, and local school systems have been writing their own curriculum or lesson plans that align with the new standards.
All school systems in Maryland were required to begin teaching to the standards this school year.
Harford County Executive David R. Craig, a Republican candidate for governor, said Monday that he does not support the Common Core because he believes what is taught should be left up to classroom teachers. The former teacher and administrator said he believes the new standards are no better than what was required by the state under No Child Left Behind and that he is opposed to the amount of testing that would be required.
He also expressed concern about the way Thursday night's meeting was handled by education officials. In his many years of overseeing public meetings as a Harford County official, he said, he never had to have someone arrested, even when members of the public were upset and angry. "We always respect the people. ... Why not let them get up and speak and give their concerns?" he said.
Baltimore County schools spokesman Mychael Dickerson said the system had gotten dozens of comments from the public, either by phone or email.
Officials did not answer questions about whether they believed Small should have been arrested for his behavior at the meeting. But they did send out an email to parents explaining how their children's education would change this year and issued a brief statement to reporters.
"The meeting helped us realize that we must do a better job of communicating what the Common Core is and what it is not," the statement said. "We have to ensure that our parents and community members understand that the Common Core allows us to implement our own curriculum, written by us, for us."
The Baltimore County Police Department, which had been criticized for its handling of the arrest, issued a statement saying that while the department "strongly supports a citizen's right to exercise his or her First Amendment rights, it also recognizes that meeting organizers have the right to establish rules of order."
Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson said in the statement that he will review the incident.
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