A question about a possible age requirement to buy condoms has Howard County Board of Education member Cindy Vaillancourt facing discipline from her colleagues and has wrapped her re-election campaign in controversy weeks before the Nov. 4 election.
On June 12, Vaillancourt said to a group of adults and high school students on school property: "Did you know that you have to be 18 to buy condoms?" Vaillancourt said she asked the question after hearing that a local Giant Food Store had carded someone who was purchasing condoms.
On July 11, one of the students present and the student's parents filed a sexual harassment complaint against Vaillancourt, according to a copy obtained by The Baltimore Sun Media Group through a Public Information Act request.
The complaint states that the student believed the comment to be "sexually explicit, unwarranted language."
In a letter to Howard County Schools Superintendent Renee Foose and board of education members, the student's parents wrote: "We are shocked and disturbed by Mrs. Vaillancourt's behavior, especially because she is a member of the Board of Education. We are therefore asking for an apology from Mrs. Vaillancourt to [student's name] and the assurance that another student will not have to experience the discomfort that our son had to undergo."
After an investigation through the Office of Equity Assurance, Rebecca Salerno, manager of that office, found that Vaillancourt had violated the board's sexual harassment policy by "making a sexually offensive comment to a male student that was unwelcomed and inappropriate."
Vaillancourt was notified of Salerno's findings Aug. 12 and was encouraged to seek sensitivity training through the school system's Employee Assistance Program.
Vaillancourt has not sought training and on Tuesday, the Howard County Board of Education approved a resolution that stated its dissapointment and displeasure with Vaillancourt's conduct. Board members also stated in the resolution that they expect Vaillancourt to seek counseling and training to guide future contact with students.
Vaillancourt said she plans to "fully and vigorously" defend herself in this matter, adding that she would be meeting with legal counsel Wednesday to discuss her options.
In a letter to Salerno, Vaillancourt's attorney, Thomas Morrow, wrote that the characterization of Vaillancourt's comment as a violation of the sexual harassment policy is "arbitrary, capricious and contrary to common sense."
The board of education voted 6-0-1 Tuesday to approve the resolution. Vaillancourt abstained and Sandie French recused herself from the discussion and vote.
French said she recused herself after learning of "rumblings" via email and social media that she was behind the resolution to improve her election chances. In the June primary, French finished second to Vaillancourt with 14,528 votes. Vaillancourt received 15,646 votes.
"I felt it was better to remain neutral," French said.
Vaillancourt said she had not been allowed to view the written complaint against her, and Board Chair Ellen Flynn Giles said during Tuesday's meeting that it would not be made available to her.
"Everybody doesn't have a right to see actions that are filed by minors," Giles said.
Tuesday's vote represented the second time in five months the board of education has approved a resolution that "expresses its displeasure" with Vaillancourt. In May, the board approved a resolution that accused Vaillancourt of twice breaching the confidentiality of closed sessions within the past year. At the time, Vaillancourt called the resolution "dirty politics," but after her success in the primary, she said she believed the resolution aided her campaign.
According to Vaillancourt, she voiced her concerns regarding the issue of carding young men and women for condoms while with a group that included adults and students. She said that she did not direct her comments to the students, but to the group as a whole.
Vaillancourt said she and Dr. Maura Rossman, Howard County Health Officer, later contacted Giant and have been assured that this is no longer happening.
Rossman, on Wednesday, confirmed that her department reached out to a Giant store manager and was told it is not store policy to ask for identification when someone purchases condoms since there is no law requiring someone to be over the age of 18 to purchase condoms.
While Vaillancourt does not believe her statements made in front of students were offensive, student board of education member Patrick Mikulis said before Tuesday's vote: "What it comes down to is accountability. Whether the remark was made, whether or not that it was perceived as offensive, as we found with the recent Glenelg High School Confederate flag incident, things that you may not think are offensive can be found offensive."
After Tuesday's meeting, Vaillancourt said she believes that if re-elected, her fellow board members could use these resolutions as grounds for impeachment.
Giles said if the board is not satisfied that its resolution is being followed, it could consider further action against Vaillancourt.
"We have explored all of our available options and those options are still available," Giles said. "We are responsible for policing ourselves."
The school system's complete sexual harassment policy can be viewed online at hcpss.org/f/board/policies/1020.pdf.