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Maryland PTA fields member questions about legal dispute over leadership with National PTA

The Maryland PTA fielded questions from members Tuesday night, updating them about the organization’s dispute with the National PTA over leadership.

The National PTA announced at the end of August that it was restructuring the Maryland group after it fell out of compliance with the organization’s “Standards of Affiliation,” according to letters obtained by The Baltimore Sun. Restructuring means the National PTA can assist the Maryland PTA in electing new leaders and gives the national group access to Maryland PTA funds and records, as well as the ability to arrange an audit.

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The National PTA cited “hostile leadership” at the Maryland PTA preventing board members from completing their duties and causing turnover.

Two weeks ago, the Maryland PTA filed for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in Anne Arundel Circuit Court seeking to block the National PTA’s restructuring plan. The court has yet to act on those requests.

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The Maryland group said during Tuesday evening’s 2½-hour conference call that National PTA board members were listening in on the meeting, and local President Edna Harvin-Battle said she “appreciated” and “welcomed” their attendance.

“Even though Maryland PTA board members are not permitted to attend the National PTA meetings, we appreciate their attendance,” she said. “We remain open to working with the National PTA to come up with an amicable solution to this dispute that is fair for both organizations.”

Harvin-Battle said during the meeting that her focus for the local PTA will be “bylaws, business and branding.” She emphasized the need to communicate better with parents and PTA affiliates. The local president also said she wants to work on amending and reviewing the rules after she raised issues with them in June 2019 as president-elect.

“Even though I was the president-elect in the prior administration, I was not privy to many decisions made on behalf of the organization," she said. “The prior president took major action without the approval of the board of directors.”

In the state PTA’s annual report, the organization alleged that the previous president cashed a $95,000 deposit that was earmarked for building emergencies and improvements without board approval. The state PTA board filed a bond claim to recover the losses, but this decision “spooked” two of the elected officers who subsequently resigned from the new administration, according to the report.

Charles Tucker Jr., an attorney representing the Maryland PTA, said during the meeting that he hopes people see that current board members are following all rules required by the National PTA.

“I went through them piece by piece to see if there is anything that would cause me concern to even represent them,” he said. “Clearly [board members] are honoring and respecting what they were called to do.”

As the meeting opened for questions, an unidentified parent asked why legal action was necessary.

Tucker, of the Hyattsville-based Tucker Moore Law Group, reiterated his previous statements that the national group didn’t give the local PTA an opportunity to respond to its complaints and instead moved forward “aggressively” to restructure the organization.

Many attendees thanked the state PTA for hosting a public meeting but expressed frustration that something like it wasn’t held sooner both to update them on the litigation and help navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

Members said they were “scrambling” to keep their local boards afloat because they haven’t been able to meet in person due to COVID-19 and they didn’t realize what powers they could use.

“I personally had no idea that our board was able to pass a budget and to appoint board members,” a female member said. “Why wasn’t this done earlier? Why weren’t we told about this sooner.”

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Baltimore Sun reporter Wilborn P. Nobles III contributed to this article.

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