Carroll schools official admits using racial slur

The Baltimore Sun

A Carroll County school board member acknowledged yesterday that he used a racial slur while visiting a school construction site -- but officials declined to say what action they took in response.

The Carroll school board recently met in a closed session in response to a complaint filed against member Jeffrey L. Morse, though the board's president would say only that the panel addressed the matter.

Morse, who was appointed to the board last year and is running for election to a full term, would not say what action the board took, but he said his remark was inappropriate.

"I should never have said that," Morse said of his comment. "It's not part of my regular vocabulary."

The complaint came from a school system employee, Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said.

The board dealt with the situation "in an appropriate manner," President Cynthia L. Foley said. "Right now, we consider the issue over."

"He was ... repeating a slang," Foley said of Morse's comment. "It was poor judgment. He apologized."

Foley added that she felt the board, which consists of five elected members and a student representative, handled the situation in a timely manner, addressing it "immediately." She said she could not detail the specific action taken because it was a "personnel issue."

The incident occurred a couple of weeks ago, Morse said, when he went to the site of the new Manchester Valley High School with an engineer to learn more about problems being encountered with trench rock.

While he and others on the scene were examining the rock, someone pointed to a boulder that had been removed, indicating that type of rock was what workers were hitting.

"I did say ... 'I know it's not correct, but in our area ... the contractors here call that' -- and I used a very inappropriate term," said Morse, a biology teacher at Littlestown High School in Pennsylvania. He said he was referring to rock found around the Littlestown area.

He found out about the complaint lodged against him last Wednesday, Morse said, and has since met with the people who heard his remarks, as well as Ecker.

"I thank them for filing a report. ... I thanked them for pushing the issue," Morse said. "They were right; I was wrong. ... I own it."

Morse was appointed last year by the governor to finish out Thomas Hiltz's term.

"The governor is deeply troubled by this alleged conduct, and will look to the state board for any recommendation for action," spokeswoman Christine Hansen said.

Local officials also expressed their concern about the incident.

"It's a very discouraging remark for him to have made in the position that he holds," said Jean Lewis, the president of the Carroll County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "It reflects poorly on him as a board member, and it reflects poorly on the board of education."

Virginia Harrison, chairwoman of the county's Human Relations Commission, said the situation "tells me that we still have a lot more work to do ... on diversity issues."

"I'm hoping, as I've always hoped, that we think intelligently and not add fuel to the fire," said Harrison, who was also recommended as a potential candidate for Hiltz's seat last year. "Let's do something to help him. Because once we help him, we help ourselves."

Former school administrator Aurora Pagulayan, who for years promoted multicultural education in the school system, said the incident should be used "as an educational experience or a teachable moment for those who are directly or indirectly involved."

"A dialogue, an open dialogue, would be very helpful," she said.

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

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