Harford school board relaxes naming, memorial policies

Members of the Harford County Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to modify existing policies regarding memorials on school property and the naming of school facilities.

Board members also agreed to table for at least two weeks a vote on changes to policies regarding advertising in schools.

The revisions to policies regarding memorials and naming passed with little to no debate among board members. Both were approved by voice vote and will significantly relax what had been on the books.

Previous HCPS policy prohibited any type of memorial to "deceased students, members of a school staff, or others," but the revised policy approved Monday allows specific types, such as a photo or picture no larger than 3 feet by 2 feet, a tree or shrub or a plaque or inscription.

Memorials must be approved by a chain of school officials, up to the superintendent and school board.

Regarding naming policies, the ability to name entire school buildings for a distinguished individual will extend to sections of schools, school libraries, athletic facilities and other areas and will be open to honoring people from the community at large, not educators.

"I appreciate what you have done in expanding the scope of this policy so we can indeed recognize individuals that have made significant contributions to the nation, when appropriate," board member Arthur Kaff told Spicer.

The naming of schools or related school facilities for anyone other than distinguished educators has been a sometimes divisive issue for Harford school officials in the past, as has been the erection of memorials to deceased former students who died will serving in the military.

An effort to name the Fallston High School football stadium after a graduate and former player, Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick Adle, who was killed while serving in Iraq in 2004, was rebuffed by school officials, partially at the urging of some veterans group leaders who questioned the wisdom of singling out one fallen hero over another when naming school facilities.

In response, the school system and the Harford County Veterans Commission worked to erect a memorial to all former students who lost their lives serving their country. The memorial, outside the entrance to school headquarters in Bel Air, was dedicated in May 2007.

Among those who were at the dedication were Lance Cpl. Adle's parents, but the rigidity of the school system's policy on memorials has continued to garner some public criticism.

Aberdeen scoreboard controversy

Board President Francis "Rick" Grambo and member Robert Frisch said Tuesday the school system regularly revisits and updates all of its policies, but Frisch noted the effort to revisit the advertising, memorial and naming policies was prompted in part by an issue in late 2011 when Aberdeen High School alumni and supporters wanted to raise funds for a new scoreboard by selling ads and obtaining donations from graduates E.J. and Erin Henderson – both standouts on the Aberdeen and University of Maryland football teams who played in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings at the time.

The community also was working to have the school's football field named in honor of the Henderson brothers, but the school board rejected the Hendersons' donation, citing its policy against naming school facilities after individuals. At the time, friends of the Henderson family denied the donation was conditional on renaming the field in the brothers' honor.

After the Henderson donation controversy, a $45,000 scoreboard, which featured a number of ads from local businesses, was dedicated last fall. The money for the scoreboard came from local business contributions and school fund-raising activities.

"The matter raised some concerns, some questions, ultimately the proposal wasn't accepted and that generated a discussion involving the three policies that we were talking about [Monday]," Frisch explained of the earlier controversy.

While the revised memorial policy does not state specifically who could be memorialized, Frisch and Grambo expected it could be anyone associated with the school system, the county or community – not just someone involved with education.

'Consistency,' 'flexibility'

Grambo said the policy gives the board more "consistency" and "flexibility" in such matters.

The naming policy provides more details on who a school building or facility could be named for.

The person could be living or dead, and must have "made significant contributions to the nation, the State of Maryland, to Harford County or the public school system," according to the revised policy.

Such a person could be someone who has provided "outstanding and exceptional support of and service to" Harford County students, someone of "outstanding citizenship and character," someone who has served the community, has "superior ethical standards" or has made a financial contribution to the school system, according to the new policy.

Advertising policy

The proposed advertising policy changes sparked debate among the board members, and Frisch made a motion to delay a vote so "we can hash out some of these other questions and bring it back at some point."

His fellow members unanimously agreed by voice vote to table the matter until a future board meeting.

The debate arose mainly over the issue of whether the board should approve contracts between individual schools and advertisers who wish to promote their products or services inside or outside school buildings and at athletic facilities, or if the approval should be left to the discretion of school principals.

Board members also expressed concerns over the school system's ability to sever a relationship with an advertiser if that business should fall out of public favor.

Patrick Spicer, legal counsel to the school board, who presented the advertising, memorial and naming policy changes Monday, said school administrators can typically form an agreement with an advertiser and contact his office when seeking advice on a contract.

"The intent here was not to place that onus on the board," Spicer said.

The revisions to HCPS' advertising policies, which were first adopted in 1980, do give the board authority to approve advertising on school system buses or other vehicles and on buses contracted to the school district.

Board member Thomas Fitzpatrick suggested to Spicer that the school system develop "a basic boilerplate contract" administrators of Harford County's 54 schools can use, one that allows HCPS "to react very quickly" if officials need to end a relationship with an advertiser.

The current policy allows advertising related to school events such as award ceremonies, performances and more for up to 15 days, ads in school publications which help "defray the cost of the publication" and permanent ads approved by either the HCPS superintendent or school board.

The policy revisions, if approved, would also allow ads which help defray school construction costs, as well as the costs of school system activities, and those which are "informational regarding post-secondary career and educational opportunities."

Grambo objected to any form of school advertising, saying it is not "consistent with the mission of the public school system."

He also cited the state constitution's prohibition against public entities becoming monopolies and asked Spicer if he was "absolutely 100 percent sure" the advertising policy does not violate the Maryland constitution.

"I feel very confident in advising you that there is not a problem with the Maryland constitution, with respect to this policy," Spicer replied.

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