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Harford teachers union files formal complaint over leader's banning from schools

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)

Ryan Burbey, the head of the Harford County teachers union, has been banned from all of the county's public schools, a move that is being challenged on Burbey's behalf by the state teachers union.

A complaint has been filed with the Maryland Public School Labor Relations Board by a Maryland State Education Association lawyer on behalf of Burbey, president of the county teachers' union, after Harford County Public Schools officials banned him from entering school buildings. The Harford County Education Association represents 3,200 teachers and counselors in Harford County Public Schools.

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Burbey said last week he cannot enter any public school building, other than the A.A. Roberty Administration Building in Bel Air, because he allegedly cursed at an after-school program staff member. But the matter goes deeper, according to the union, which had already filed a grievance against the school system on Sept. 11 for restricting Burbey's access to the school buildings.

The grievance was denied Sept. 24, according to documents obtained from the union, seven days before the alleged Oct. 1 incident at Emmorton Elementary School. School officials have refused to talk about the Oct. 1 incident cited in the letter banning Burbey from all schools. Burbey denies the cursing accusation, although the banning letter he received from the school system's head of security last week does not mention specifically what happened.

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"I categorically deny it," Burbey said Monday night, as he was attending the school board meeting at the Roberty Building. "It didn't happen; it's a false accusation."

"It is going to hinder his ability to carry out his job functions as the [HCEA] president," Kristy K. Anderson, general counsel for the state association, said of the ban. The Maryland State Education Association is the parent organization of the Harford union.

Anderson stated in the complaint that Harford school officials violated state statutes that give public school employees the right to "form, join and participate in the activities of employee organization," as well as the "duty of fair representation," and bar "interference with right of public school employee to exercise certain statutory rights."

Burbey said he received a letter last Wednesday from Harford County Public Schools that says he is "banned from all Harford County public schools" through June 30, 2015, and he is only allowed to enter the Roberty Building for legitimate business.

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"The biggest thing is, this decision was made rather arbitrarily, and [school officials] acted without consideration to the broad-reaching impact that it might have," he said.

A copy of the letter to Burbey, which was dated Oct. 6 and signed by Robert Benedetto, chief of security for HCPS, was included in the complaint Anderson filed on Burbey's behalf.

The letter, however, doesn't give specifics, but states: "As a result of your actions at Emmorton Elementary School on Wednesday, October 1, 2014, we are informing you that effective immediately, you are banned from all Harford County Public Schools."

"If you come onto school property, outside of the scope of this letter, you will be considered trespassing and the appropriate police agency will be contacted and you may be subject to arrest," Benedetto wrote.

When interviewed last week, Burbey said the incident allegedly involved him cursing at an after-school program staff member when he was trying to assist a parent who wanted to enter the building to get something their child had forgotten. But he wouldn't identify the school where it happened or provide a copy of the letter banning him from the schools

"This is a tough enough ordeal for my family, and for me," he explained at the time. "I don't want anyone else to have to go through this ordeal."

"I didn't curse at them, and it's really that simple," he added.

The union complaint also includes background information about efforts by state and county teachers' union officials to meet with teachers at the schools, and a grievance the HCEA filed Sept. 11 regarding a school system requirement for the union to fill out and submit a school system Use of Facilities form to hold meetings in the schools. Burbey, along with a representative of the state union, met with school officials Sept. 24 to discuss that issue.

Jean Mantegna, assistant superintendent for human resources for the school system, stated in documents summarizing the meeting that Burbey is not considered an active school employee, since he is a representative of the teachers' union, that meetings "may not interfere with the normal, orderly conduct of the schools," according to the contract with the teachers' union, and that a school principal or designee must "make the determination of building access for meetings."

"Making arrangements with the principal when any person or group would like to utilize the building for meetings must be done in a procedural manner as set forth by the Office of Operations," Mantegna wrote. "These procedures have been put in place to ensure the safety and security of all staff and students."

Burbey said the school system's actions are affecting his ability to do his job as the HCEA union president and he hopes to resolve the issue quickly.

"We have a statutory obligation to be able to meet with our members and they're impinging on our ability to do that," he said, adding that HCEA's representation of its members will not change because of the ban.

Patrick Spicer, the school system's lawyer, said school officials wouldn't comment on whether someone has been banned.

"It's an internal operational matter," Spicer said Thursday, speaking on behalf of the school system.

School board members reached late last week either would not comment or said they did not know about the union leader being banned.

As he usually does, Burbey asked to speak about teachers salaries during Monday's school board meeting and was permitted. He did not bring up the ban or the union complaint.

But when Burbey called out Alysson Krchnavy, the longest-serving board member, saying: "You have presided over the entire salary freeze," he received an immediate warning from Board President Nancy Reynolds that board policies prohibit "personal attacks."

Burbey responded that his comments were not a personal attack, but rather "a matter of policy."

"If board members' true role in governing the school system is to govern and create policy that best moves the system forward, the members who have the most tenure have the most to blame for our lack of moving forward," he said.

Spicer interrupted and said Burbey was "out of order."

"I don't think in any way I made any disparaging comments or a personal attack," Burbey said later. "When you're a public official, you have a public record."

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