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Letters written by school board members ‘perfectly fine,’ says CCPS lawyer; number of students with COVID-19 drops by half

While some members of the public have questioned the legality of letters written on school system letterhead and sent by two Board of Education members to the state, an attorney for Carroll County Public Schools reiterated Wednesday that such letters are allowed.

Board President Marsha Herbert and Vice President Ken Kiler sent letters, dated May 27, addressed to Karen Salmon, state superintendent of schools, and Dr. Jinlene Chan, deputy secretary of Maryland Department of Health, requesting the in-school mask mandate be lifted.

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Ed O’Meally, legal counsel for CCPS, said no law prevents them from doing so.

The school board held an emergency meeting Monday, more than a week after the letters were sent, and unanimously passed a resolution requesting that the governor change his mask mandate for schools. During the meeting, O’Meally said he suggested Herbert have an open meeting to make a resolution adoption to remain in accordance with the open meetings act. Other board members noted that they knew nothing about the letters before the special meeting was called and Herbert and Kiler said their letters were sent as individuals, not representing the board.

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Still, reaction on social media has been strong, with many questioning whether it was legal or ethical to send the letters considering that both Herbert and Kiler making note in the correspondence of their positions on the Carroll County Board of Education.

Kiler posted his letter on Facebook after, he said, several people asked to see it.

“I (not we) requested masks be made optional,” he said in his Facebook post. “I do feel that it is prudent and correct to give full disclosure as to who I am when requesting something. I have also sent other letters and emails and will continue to do so.”

In his letter, Kiler states, “I am a member of the Board of Education of Carroll County. I would like to respectfully request that masks be made optional inside our school buildings.”

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The letter was typed on a document under CCPS letterhead with his BOE position noted beneath his signature.

Herbert’s May 27 letter was also written on CCPS letterhead with her BOE position noted beneath her signature. Her first sentence stated, “As president of the Board of Education of Carroll County, I would like to respectfully request that you consider lifting the mask requirement in our schools.”

Within Kiler’s 75 comments underneath his Facebook post, users questioned whether he spoke for the board or for himself, though Kiler stated during Monday’s meeting he spoke as an individual and stated in a Facebook comment that it met the guidelines.

“It’s perfectly fine for individual board members to send letters on their own,” O’Meally said in an interview, adding that letters that go out from a board as an entity has to first be approved in a public meeting.

O’Meally said the board members have a First Amendment right to express their personal views and nowhere in the letters does it state the two are speaking on behalf of the board.

Facebook users also noted the Board of Education handbook. It states on page 16 part of the duties and responsibilities of a board president are to represent “the views of the board in all communications and correspondence.”

However, O’Meally said the fact that Herbert represents the board at times does not mean she cannot speak for herself at other times. He said the same can apply to other individuals serving on boards of other agencies or government bodies who send letters speaking for themselves.

“Ms. Herbert sent a letter on behalf of Ms. Herbert and Ms. Herbert alone,” he said.

School COVID numbers continues drop

The number of students with COVID-19 has dropped by half since last week.

There were 18 students, and zero staff, who were reported having the virus on June 2. Wednesday’s report on the weekly dashboard show it’s now down to nine students and one staff member.

The number of people with symptoms increased, however, from 138 to 165, though symptoms do not always result in a positive COVID test. Of the 165 people, 157 were students.

The 10 case numbers derived from eight different schools, and only Mount Airy Elementary and Westminster High schools had two cases. For symptoms, Spring Garden had the most on the elementary level with 16 people, Mount Airy Middle had 10 people with symptoms, the most on the middle school level. And Century, Manchester Valley and Westminster high schools each have four people with symptoms.

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