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Howard parent files redistricting injunction; school board adds ratification of vote to agenda

A Howard County Public School System parent filed an injunction in court Wednesday against the Board of Education’s final redistricting decision based on the argument that the board violated the Maryland Open Meetings Act.

Hours later, the school board’s Tuesday meeting agenda was updated to reflect an additional action item titled “Ratification of Vote on Redistricting.” No other information about the agenda item was available Thursday, and there was nothing indicating the vote was related to the Open Meetings Act injunction.

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During the Nov. 21 redistricting vote, a motion failed by a 4-3 margin to move elementary school students from one neighborhood to a different school. After the votes were cast, school board member Jennifer Mallo asked to take a recess “to consider the impacts of that last failed motion.” When the school board returned to open session, Vice Chairwoman Kirsten Coombs reversed her decision, supporting the motion.

The motion then passed to move students from Clemens Crossing Elementary to Bryant Woods Elementary. The decision was made “immediately following a secretive closed-door meeting that violated the Opening Meetings Act,” according to the court filing.

The state Open Meetings Act does not permit private discussion among the majority of school board members on the formation of new policy, and requires a public body to cite an exception to the act before entering into closed-door discussions.

The injunction argues the school board violated its handbook on top of the open meetings violation.

Many people attend the Howard County school board meeting at which the board voted about redistricting.

Quoting the handbook, the injunction states, “At no time shall any group of Board members, whose number would satisfy quorum requirements, meet privately on an issue that requires public meeting.”

The parent, Martin Dimitrov, a Columbia resident, has an 8-year-old child who is in the second grade at Clemens Crossing. Dimitrov’s child will attend Bryant Woods, as the Nov. 21 approved plan states.

As a result of the school move, Dimitrov argues, his child, “as well as many children as young as 5 years old, will suffer imminent and irreparable harm.”

The injunction was filed in Howard County Circuit Court at approximately 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Dimitrov is seeking an injunction to prevent the school board from moving forward with redistricting decisions, including to void the Clemens Crossing motion. He is also requesting that all votes taken after the Clemens Crossing motion be voided.

After 10 contentious months, the school board approved a redistricting plan in November to move more than 5,400 students to different schools in an effort to balance socioeconomic levels and school capacity.

The day after the redistricting vote, Barbara Krupiarz, a parent, filed a complaint to the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board.

The compliance board forwards complaints to the accused agency, which has 30 days to respond to the board. The Office of the Attorney General forwarded Krupiarz’s complaint Nov. 22 to board Chairwoman Mavis Ellis with a request for a written response, email records show.

The school board’s administrator declined to comment on the injunction Thursday.

Dimitrov is represented by Shavina Kumar Mukesh and Edward Tayter.

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Reached by phone Thursday, Mukesh said, “Most of our argument is the injunction itself.

“What’s really shocking … is as soon as we filed it around 2 p.m. [Wednesday], in the evening it came to my attention that board added in [to their Tuesday meeting agenda] they are going to ratify the vote,” Mukesh said. “It’s surprising as to what their motive is. Is this in response to the injunction?”

Baltimore Sun Media reporter Taylor DeVille contributed to this article.

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