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Letters: Howard County school board candidates should be vetted ahead of elections; and more from readers

School board candidates should be vetted

Listening to the Board of Education candidates discuss their appropriateness for the board, I wondered if they undergo any vetting. On March 30, I submitted an MPIA request asking (1) if a background check is required of all Howard County Public School System employees, (2) if the superintendent is required to do this and when during the recruitment process, and (3) if candidates for the board are vetted and when during the election process.

A response on April 29 directed me to answer 1 on the website and stated that, given limited time and resources due to COVID-19, they are suspending further response until “the school system returns to normal operations.” Readers can decide if this is reasonable or typical obfuscation by HCPSS regarding anything potentially meaningful. The background check described is quite thorough, including criminal history, history of sexual and physical abuse, education, credentials and past employment.

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I believe that similar vetting, plus more, should be required for board candidates — prior to elections — because they are applicants for an extremely important job. I requested the MPIA because I heard this is not required of board members at any point in the process. Further, recent events indicate that such vetting should include candidates’ social media posts. I have heard that others have been unable to verify education/credentials/awards/relevant experiences described verbally by some candidates. Given that so many in Howard County undergo extensive vetting for our professions and jobs, it is astonishing that none may be required of people who exert the major influence on our schools.

I therefore challenge all candidates to submit in writing their educational credentials, awards and relevant experiences, sufficiently detailed to enable checks, prior to the November election. (Some have done this, but we should expect it from all.) Currently it is up to us to verify this and to scour social media for any statements of concern. Going forward, I challenge the county executive to establish mechanisms to conduct and publish such vetting when candidates declare themselves. I know that “resume enhancement” is common but believe we cannot be too careful in electing people who will greatly affect our children’s future.

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Dr. Sheridan Phillips

Clarksville

Threat-alert system could help reopening process

Gov. Larry Hogan has announced the start of stage one coronavirus recovery for Maryland with county leaders empowered to decide on the timing of reopening of retail, manufacturing, churches and some personal services within their jurisdictions. What we urgently need now is the answer to the question: “Are we safe to do X?” If you look at the Maryland COVID-19 website, it will show substantial variation in the number of cases for the postal ZIP codes even within Howard County, let alone for the rest of the state. You should reasonably expect large variations even within ZIP codes. What we desperately need is a Howard County website or app that maps risks in finer detail.

I recommend the development of a COVID-19 threat-alert system based on the terrorist threat alert system that exists now. The alert system established five color-coded levels of terrorist threat: green for low; blue for guarded; yellow for elevated; orange for high; and red for severe. Treat the coronavirus as you would treat a terrorist attack and tie economic opening levels to alert levels. Just like conventional terrorist threats, areas would have different threat levels with correspondingly different responses. This could be both a safe and fast route for opening Howard County.

How could such alert levels be defined? A simple data-driven model that captures the key elements might suffice with three critical factors: new cases per week, per population; maximum population age and minimum social distance. The alert level could be a weighted average of these factors. I don’t doubt that better, more complicated models could be derived, but simpler is easier to understand and the education of everyone is most important. This kind of information could be incorporated into a website or smartphone app that could save lives.

I support the governor’s and county executive’s plans, but I believe that the addition of local alert levels would enhance their plans significantly and ask for their consideration.

Michael W. Roth

Columbia

State ban on chlorpyrifos pesticide needed

Maryland was one of the first states to pass a bill banning the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Chlorpyrifos, according to EPA scientists after almost 20 years of assessment, is unsafe at any detectable level. Brain-harming chlorpyrifos is linked to autism, learning disabilities and cancer. Chlorpyrifos is also toxic to birds, interferes with their migration and threatens endangered species. The EPA proposed to ban it in 2015, but this decision was overturned by the current administration, just weeks after taking office.

After three sessions of the Maryland General Assembly trying to enact this needed protection, the state chlorpyrifos ban passed both the House of Delegates and the Senate by a wide margin in the 2020 session. To everyone’s surprise, however, Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the ban, claiming that recent regulations enacted by the Maryland Department of Agriculture made the legislation superfluous. A regulation without a law behind it does not provide the certainty of law. Regulations can be changed by the agency at any time, or with the change of administration. Given that the MDA has historically opposed banning this toxic chemical, we need the assurance of law. Only a law can make the ban permanent.

It is our hope that Maryland’s citizens will join us in supporting an override of the veto, whether this occurs at a special session of the Maryland General Assembly or with the 2021 session.

Mary Lou Clark and Kurt R. Schwarz

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The writers are, respectively, president and conservation chair for the Howard County Bird Club.

Community colleges provide engaging, affordable option

In response to Howard Community College President Kathleen Hetherington’s letter (May 14), I’d like to second her assessment of the community college experience. I attended three colleges during 1968 to 1973 and of the three, the most fun and best classes were experienced at a community college. Not that the four-year universities were bad; they simply weren’t as engaging and one was not a good fit.

My two years at community college were great with interesting and erudite instructors, wonderful courses close to home and inexpensive. I wholeheartedly recommend community college as an alternative to jumping right into a four-year institution, as a start to an academic career, or as an adjunct to other studies and extension courses for “later life” investigations. In all honesty, you never have to justify going to community college except to say perhaps it was the best higher education experience I ever had. In-class enrollment, online classes and courses you can audit for new experiences, the Rouse Scholar Program which is extraordinary, all contribute to a great college career for newly matriculated high school seniors, young students, and those of us who are retired and inquisitive and just want to learn something new and different.

Please consider the community college alternative. The one thing I ask of the community college system is please continue to make it as affordable as you can. That’s one of the great advantages I see along with the courses, professors and class size. As far as I’m concerned, you won’t regret it.

Glenn Scimonelli

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Columbia

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