Dream Act event at city school being scrutinized

The Baltimore school system is looking into whether an event held at a public charter school to promote passage of a question on the Nov. 6 ballot was an improper use of facilities to promote a political cause.

Advocates of the Dream Act, a measure that would extend in-state college tuition to the children of illegal immigrants, held a news conference Tuesday afternoon with U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings at the Patterson Park Public Charter School on North Lakewood Avenue.

But in response to a reporter's inquiry, a school system spokeswoman said the event may have been held in violation of the district's policy. "This is not a district-sponsored and -approved event," said Edie House-Foster, the spokeswoman. "They did not follow our protocol."

House-Foster said the system is "looking into the matter."

An announcement emailed by Dream Act supporters advertised the event as a news conference with Cummings, school principal Chad Kramer, high school teachers and local businesswoman Veronica Cool.

Kramer confirmed that the event had taken place but deferred most questions to House-Foster.

"It was a complicated situation that has a number of complicated rules," he said, adding that any faculty participation was voluntary.

House-Foster said that while the building used by the charter school is not owned by the system, Kramer and the faculty there are public employees.

The event took place at 1 p.m. on a school day. House-Foster said advocacy groups can use school space after hours but are not permitted to hold events during the school day. Even then, she said, faculty members cannot be required to participate and parents must give approval of any involvement of their children.

"This should have been held outside the building," she said, adding that charter schools are considered public schools.

Del. Pat McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican who is an outspoken Dream Act opponent, said the incident fits a pattern of supporters using public resources to advance their campaign.

"They are acting in an unethical if not illegal way in conducting their campaign, and this incident is one of many," he said.

Kristin Ford, spokeswoman for the pro-Dream Act group Educating Maryland Kids, said supporters believed the event was proper because the charter school owns its building. She said the group had the permission of the principal to be there but was not sure whether the event had been approved by school headquarters.

"I can't speak for the school district in terms of how they're interpreting the rules," Ford said. "We were trying to be obviously mindful of the policy in place."

Ford said any students who took part did so with parental permission. She said Kramer welcomed attendees as a parent at the school, not as principal.

"This was not an official school event," she said.

A spokeswoman for Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, could not be reached for comment.


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