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Howard board reacts to arrest, Common Core implementation

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When it comes to the Common Core, the Howard County Board of Education is officially in support of the new curriculum standards. But, the devil is in the details, and in this case the details are how to implement the reform.

And while establishing the new curriculum in county classrooms is front page news for school officials, the Common Core made headlines for another reason last week after an Ellicott City man was arrested during a presentation on the reforms in Towson on Sept. 19.

Robert Small, speaking out of turn at the forum to criticize Common Core, was approached by a Baltimore County plainclothes police officer and escorted out of the room, later to be charged with second-degree assault of that officer. The charges were dropped Sept. 23.

Small is married to Christina Delmont-Small, president of the PTA Council of Howard County. Other than confirming Small is her husband, Delmont-Small declined to comment for this story.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a new curriculum designed to create a uniform set of academic standards nationwide. In Howard County, where the new curriculum was given a test run last year, the Common Core has been the reason cited for removing traditional, stand-alone reading classes in middle schools, lower scores on the Maryland School Assessments and a new teacher and principal evaluation system.

"We're trying to do the best we can with all these directives," Board Chairman Frank Aquino said this week. "It's intended to create consistent standards across the country, but because things are moving so fast in education — this is my view — we're introducing it before all the formalities are taken care of. Starting a new curriculum to a certain extent before it was fully developed has created strain and stress."

Reactions from Howard board members on Small's arrest ran the gamut.

"It sounds to me that Mr. Small wanted to have his voice heard in a manner the forum wasn't prepared or set up to accept," Aquino said. "There are various ways for the public's voice to be heard in a manner that's effective without necessarily violating the protocols of a particular forum."

Ellen Giles said that while Small had concerns, the presentation "wasn't the venue to bring it up.

"I understand questions that had been submitted beforehand would be answered [at the forum or online], but he was a disruptive presence and infringed on the rights of others to be part of an orderly process," she said.

Janet Siddiqui declined to comment. Sandra French said she was "very glad" charges against Small were dropped, but declined to comment further.

Cindy Vaillancourt, too, said she was glad charges were dropped, and that it's "hard to imagine a situation ever getting to that point.

"I hope nothing like that would happen in Howard County," she said. "I would hope that we would treat our parents with respect. There's nothing wrong with the format of the Common Core presentation, but it's a presentation, not a forum. Not an open discussion, town hall, give-and-take communication, and we need to have more of those. There needs to be a way for people to ask questions and not get a canned response."

On the other end of the spectrum, Brian Meshkin said he was "furious" when he saw the video of Small's arrest.

"He didn't call anyone names, used no profanity. He was just trying to have his voice heard and to be arrested and manhandled that way, it made my blood boil. ... It was an example of hubris and pride, and [Baltimore County] made a mistake," Meshkin said.

The incident, said Ann De Lacy, raises a bigger issue.

"He asked pertinent questions, only to be talked over and shut down," De Lacy said. "That begs the question: What don't we know that we need to know? It's ridiculous. ... I couldn't see that happening in Howard County, a citizen being physically removed unless he or she was threatening or extremely disruptive. What I saw [on the video of Small's arrest] was not anything other someone speaking his mind and seeking answers to his questions."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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