The schools superintendent in Queen Anne’s County stopped going to work over two weeks ago after a contentious school board meeting — leaving many in the county wondering what has happened and who’s in charge of its 15 schools as they prepare to reopen after months of closure due to the coronavirus.
Dr. Andrea M. Kane, now in her fourth year on the job, ceased covering her normal administrative duties and began a leave of absence Oct. 9, Tamera Harper, president of the county school board, confirmed Monday.
In an email to The Baltimore Sun, Harper did not respond to questions about the nature of the leave. But she said Kane has remained out “longer than we anticipated.”
Kane did not respond to messages seeking comment for this article.
Kane — the first Black female superintendent in Queen Anne’s, a county that is about 85% percent white — became a subject of heated debate over the summer, when she hired an anti-racist activist group to conduct a voluntary online conversation with students and she attended several marches in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The abruptness of Kane’s absence and the mystery surrounding it — the school board waited more than two weeks before it publicly acknowledged the move — has left many in the county puzzled and concerned, particularly coming as the system faces the daunting task of getting its approximately 7,500 students back to school on a complex hybrid schedule.
“As these plans are still being formulated, we are concerned about not only building the plane as we’re flying it, but doing so without a pilot,” Karen Fields, president of the county teachers union, said in an email to The Sun.
Gordana Schifanelli, a Stevensville mother of three school-age children and an outspoken Kane critic, said many county parents are upset about Kane’s absence and the lack of information from the school system.
“She’s just gone, and we don’t know if she’s going to come back," Schifanelli said. "People are on pins and needles. Parents have really been calling the school board about this.”
Kane’s leave is the fourth major personnel change in recent months. The system’s deputy superintendent and chief financial officer departed for positions elsewhere in August. And the chief operations officer — who was charged with coordinating details of the reopening plan — resigned “for personal reasons” last month, a school system spokesman said.
The county is currently working with an interim deputy superintendent and interim chief operations officer and advertising to fill the chief financial officer position, he added.
Meanwhile, the former chief financial officer, John Pfister, who began a job Sept. 9 as an accountant with Anne Arundel County Public Schools, is on his own time working as a contractor on projects for the Queen Anne’s system, according to Bob Mosier, a spokesman for the Anne Arundel system.
Kane is an award-winning educator with a long track record of success, including 22 years as a teacher and administrator in Anne Arundel County.
Her comments in an email to parents citing a need for conversation about racism in Queen Anne’s in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minnesota didn’t sit well with Schifanelli, a lawyer and 22-year county resident. She argued that it’s illegal under Maryland law for educators to express political opinions while on the job or otherwise representing the school system.
A Facebook group Schifanelli founded in response, Kent Island Patriots, quickly mushroomed in size, its membership passing 2,000 members within weeks.
Many on the site voiced support for Schifanelli’s views on the matter, and hundreds signed a petition seeking to force the superintendent to stop expressing political opinions while representing the school system. A counter-petition supporting Kane drew even more signatures.
Kane told The Sun at the time that she was often at odds with the school board, a five-member body whose members are all white, and said she would not seek to remain with the school system after her contract expires in June. "I have not had good relations with my school board since I got there," she said in August. “I have talked to them about marginalizing me.”
The latest contretemps came to public attention at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Queen Anne’s school board Oct. 7.
For the better part of a meeting that lasted more than five hours, Kane, members of the board and members of the public aired their views on the prospects of reopening for in-person learning at county schools amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
A number of students pleaded for reopening to occur as soon as possible, citing missed learning opportunities, stress from isolation and their inability to take part in school-sponsored sports. School officials cited the difficulties involved.
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The board eventually settled on a hybrid reopening plan set to begin Nov. 2, a date they later pushed back one week.
As the evening wound to a close, board members made a surprise move, proposing a measure to require Kane to secure board approval for any expenses she plans to cover using state money earmarked for COVID-19 relief.
Kane objected, arguing that the vote constituted an attempt by the board to limit her powers as superintendent.
“You don’t get to see [the money] before it’s spent. That’s my job,” she said. “If you want to vote to take away my authority, then you have the right to do that, I suspect. But that sends a real clear message to me as to where I sit with this board.”
The members voted to support a version that called for Kane simply to show the board her spending plans ahead of time, not to have to seek approval.
Harper, the board president, said Kane remains the superintendent under her current contract and “has made herself available to supervisors, principals, teachers, executive team members and Board Members.” She and her team “continue to direct the reopening process,” Harper said.
“I think an administrator can be on leave and still be in touch with her office staff,” Harper said.