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Harford teachers union president banned from entering 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)

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.

Union head Ryan Burbey, who denies the charge, said he received a letter 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 be allowed to enter the A.A. Roberty building, the school system's headquarters on Hickory Avenue in Bel Air, for legitimate business

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If he comes onto school property "outside the scope of this letter," he will be considered trespassing, the appropriate police agency will be contacted and he will be subject to arrest, Burbey said Thursday, reading from the letter.

Kristy K. Anderson, a lawyer for the Maryland State Education Association, confirmed Burbey received the letter.

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"Yes - he received the letter banning him from public schools. We are preparing a complaint of a statutory violation to be filed with the Maryland Public School Labor Relations Board as this ban is a clear interference with the Association's statutory duty to represent all employees assigned to the bargaining unit," Anderson wrote in an email.

Burbey declined to say who signed the letter, other than it came from the school system.

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, speaking on behalf of the school system.

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School Board President Nancy Reynolds said she is aware of the situation but was not prepared to comment because she did not have all the details. Board member Tom Fitzpatrick, who was reached by phone in Charleston, S.C., had not heard about the incident but also said he hadn't checked his email in a few days.

The banning letter, which took him "completely by surprise," stems from an incident at a school Oct. 1, according to Burbey, who declined to say which school.

How the allegations of him cursing someone came about, he has no idea, Burbey said.

"The statement is categorically false, that I cursed at someone on school property. It just didn't happen," he said.

The ban, Burbey said, is affecting his ability to do his job as the HCEA union president.

"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.

Burbey hopes to have the situation resolved quickly.

In the meantime, he said, the HCEA still has two staff members who will continue to meet with teachers on-site and and answer their questions. They can also contact him at home or his office or reach him by email.

Burbey said he tries to go to schools once or twice a week.

"It depends week to week and what their needs are," he explained. "If they have questions or concerns, meeting with people in person is the best way to communicate. We try to meet with people in person, talk to them during lunch or after school and deal with their issues. It's sad that this has happened. It's very unfortunate."

"Teachers are busy people. We try and meet them where they are and do everything we can help them," he said.

Before union members elected him president, Burbey had been a teacher with the school system more than 10 years. When his term as president is up, or he doesn't seek re-election, he said he intends to go back to the classroom.

"This is my career. I'm a teacher. I often get pigeon-holed into a mean old union guy, but I was a teacher, I'm still a teacher, and I intend to teach when I'm done as president," Burbey said. "I don't think this has an impact long-term. It's an unfortunate misstep I hope will get corrected and we can all put it to bed."

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