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Harford school board member apologizes to teachers' union head over 2014 ban

Harford County Education Association President Ryan Burbey, left, is shown in late 2012 with Maryland State Education Association President Betty Weller. Harford County Public Schools has banned Burbey from entering its school buildings. Both the local and state teachers union say they intend to take actions to get the ban lifted.
Harford County Education Association President Ryan Burbey, left, is shown in late 2012 with Maryland State Education Association President Betty Weller. Harford County Public Schools has banned Burbey from entering its school buildings. Both the local and state teachers union say they intend to take actions to get the ban lifted. (AEGIS FILE PHOTO / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

A Harford County Board of Education member personally apologized to the head of the local teachers union Monday evening, three weeks after the state's Public School Labor Relations Board criticized Harford school officials for banning the union leader from school facilities in 2014.

The labor board ordered April 4 that notices be posted in all HCPS buildings stating school officials will not impede union activities. The order was the culmination of a dispute between the school system and the union over the banning of Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, from all buildings except the school system headquarters in Bel Air during most of the 2014-2015 school year.

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The president of the Harford County Education Association, which represents 3,200 teachers and counselors in Harford County Public Schools, has been banned from entering any public school building other than the administration building in Bel Air because he allegedly cursed at an after-school program staff member.

"I do want to say to you, directly, I am sorry," board member Robert Frisch told Burbey, who was in the audience during Monday's school board meeting. Frisch, who spoke during the board members comment portion of the meeting, said later the apology was personal and not on behalf of any of the other eight board members.

Frisch said he had read the labor board's extensive file on the case. He praised state administrative Judge Jennifer M. Carter Jones, who conducted an investigation into the Oct. 1, 2014 alleged confrontation between Burbey and an after-school program coordinator at Emmorton Elementary School and the reasons for the ban that was instituted after that confrontation. The coordinator was not a school system employee but worked for a local YCMA that conducts the program.

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Citing state law which allows them to ban from facilities anyone who disrupts school activities, HCPS officials reacted to the alleged confrontation, which the coordinator claimed involved Burbey cursing, by telling the union leader he couldn't enter school buildings for the remainder of the school year.

Burbey has maintained he did nothing wrong, and the administrative judge's findings, which were adopted by the labor board, concluded it was unlikely the confrontation occurred as the other person involved had claimed.

The labor board also adopted the judge's findings that HCPS had committed an "unfair labor practice" by banning Burbey. The ban itself expired when the current school year began last August, but the case dragged out because school officials felt some sanctions being proposed by the union were unnecessary, according to the April 4 labor board ruling. The judge's findings and labor board opinion also took note of past acrimonious relationships between school officials and the union, which represents 3,200 teachers.

Frisch said Jones, the administrative judge, was "definitely able to navigate through" and get to the heart of the issues in the case.

"I'm satisfied with the conclusions," he said, citing his prior experience as an investigator with the Baltimore Police Department, including conducting internal investigations of police officers.

Maryland's Public School Labor Relations Board has ordered Harford County Public Schools to post a notice to employees that it will not interfere with permitted union activities conducted with school facilities.

Frisch, who also formerly taught in Baltimore County Public Schools, said the Harford School Board "must become more engaged" in labor issues, as "it remains the board who is ultimately responsible" for decisions made by the school system. It was the board, not the school administration, that was named party to the action HCEA brought before the labor board over Burbey being banned.

He also encouraged all parties to "find a path forward together."

"Everyone deserves better," Frisch said.

While noting he hadn't planning to talk about the labor board ruling, Burbey accepted Frisch's apology.

"I do want to thank you," he said.

Burbey said the previous school year when the ban was still in effect had been "a very difficult time."

"[I hope] we call all move forward and put it behind us," he said.

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Board President Nancy Reynolds said Tuesday that she had not been aware Frisch planned to issue an apology.

"There was no discussion as to his comments, so his comments did represent his own opinion," she said.

Reynolds noted the school board is "certainly going to abide by the decision of the labor relations board, and have abided by it."

The board ordered the school system to post the notices that it will not interfere with union activity by April 18.

Closed session

School board members convened in an "open session" at 5:25 p.m. Monday and then immediately voted 6-0 to go into closed session before "to conduct collective bargaining negotiations or consider matters that relate to the negotiations," according to Reynolds, who moved to adjourn into a closed session. Members Joseph Hau, Jansen Robinson and Rachel Gauthier were not present when the closed meeting convened.

School officials previously announced contract settlements with four of the systems five employee unions. Collective bargaining with the HCEA, Burbey's union, is at and impasse and is being mediated through the state labor board.

The public business meeting convened at 6:30 p.m.

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