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Former state health officer questions Howard BoE actions

In the 1990s, former Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Martin Wasserman went before the Montgomery County Board of Education to talk about the importance of using condoms to prevent the spread of HIV.

On Thursday, Wasserman will go before the Howard County Board of Education and question why it punished Cindy Vaillancourt for asking students about a local grocery store carding someone purchasing condoms.

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"The entire board, independently, coming to the wrong conclusion on a very simple matter really makes me question if there is something else going on here that the public's not privileged to. That has me very concerned," said Wasserman, who served as the Maryland Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene from 1994-1999.

Vaillancourt was reprimanded by her colleagues Sept. 23 in the form of a resolution stating the board's disappointment and displeasure in her actions.

The controversy surrounding Vaillancourt's comments stems from a conversation on June 12, when, according to a sexual harassment complaint filed, Vaillancourt said to a group of adults and high school students on school property: "Did you know that you have to be 18 to buy condoms?"

Vaillancourt has said that she asked the question after hearing that a local Giant Food Store had carded someone who was purchasing condoms.

The complaint states that the student believed the comment to be "sexually explicit, unwarranted language."

After an investigation through the Office of Equity Assurance, Rebecca Salerno, manager of that office, found that Vaillancourt had violated the board's sexual harassment policy by "making a sexually offensive comment to a male student that was unwelcomed and inappropriate."

Tuesday, Wasserman went as far as to say the Board of Education should rescind its action against Vaillancourt.

"If you talk to anybody in the health field, they are not going to call the term or the product sexually explicit," he said.

Wasserman will be joined by his wife, Dr. Barbara Wasserman, in questioning the school board's actions on Thursday.

Barbara Wasserman, who served on the school system's wellness policy committee, said she believes the school system's ruling would make referring to bras a sexually explicit comment.

"She [Vaillancourt] was acting in an appropriate fashion," she said. "She was really pursuing information that would benefit the students and support the ninth grade curriculum topic."

The Wassermans, who live in Ellicott City, plan on addressing the Board of Education during Thursday's public comment session. The Board of Education meeting begins at 4 p.m.

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