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Howard PTA forum provides access to BOE candidates

Howard County Board of Education candidate Dr. Zaneb Beams, center, talks to community members Sunday during the PTA Council of Howard County's BOE candidate roundtable.
Howard County Board of Education candidate Dr. Zaneb Beams, center, talks to community members Sunday during the PTA Council of Howard County's BOE candidate roundtable.(Photo by Blair Ames)

Linfeng Chen came to Atholton High School Sunday with a specific proposal for Howard County Board of Education candidates.

Representing the Howard County Chinese Parents Group, Chen asked each candidate if they would support placing a professional learning day on the Lunar New Year in future years, which would give students the day off from school on the biggest holiday in Asia.

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Chen was one of more than 60 parents, students and community members who attended the PTA Council of Howard County's roundtable discussion Sunday, which featured 12-minute question-and-answer sessions with candidates for small groups, most made up of three to four people.

Across the groups, candidates were posed a range of questions regarding special education programs, school start times, school health programs, student transportation and the role of the Board of Education among others.

Parents with the Howard County Chinese School and Howard County Chinese Parents Group made up at least half of the audience —standing out as they all wore red — and questioned candidates on the Lunar New Year proposal and how candidates would work to address the needs of the Asian community.

Chen, who handed each candidate a copy of the proposal with background on the importance of the Lunar New Year, called the roundtable at Atholton "very informative."

Jean Xu, founder of the Howard County Chinese Parents Group, said the face-to-face interaction with candidates was a welcome change from scanning candidates' websites looking for their stances on particular issues.

"In this format, the most important thing is that the parents have a good interaction with the candidates and that helps us to make a better decision," she said.

After June's primary election, eight candidates remain in the running for four open seats on the eight-member Board of Education.

Incumbents Sandie French and Cindy Vaillancourt are each seeking a new term on the board and are joined on the ballot by Bess Altwerger, Dr. Zaneb Beams, Allen Dyer, Dan Furman, Christine O'Connor and Mike Smith.

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Andrea Holz, a mother of three children at Clarksville Middle School, was interested in candidates' opinions on special education programs, board transparency and community input within the school system.

After two hours of meeting with each candidate in small groups, Holz was one of many parents who said the PTA Council of Howard County's "speed-dating" format gave them an opportunity to question candidates on specific topics.

"It helped me solidify in my mind who I'm going to vote for," Holz said.

Debbie Engle, who has children enrolled at Clarksville Middle and Pointers Run Elementary schools, also came to voice concerns regarding special education programs and special education funding.

Engle said the event was "very enlightening," adding that the candidates were candid in their responses.

"Everybody should come to something like this because you really get a sense of what these individual candidates stand for," she said.

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