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After slur, school board member resigns

The Baltimore Sun

A Carroll County school board member who acknowledged using a racial slur during a recent visit to a construction site stepped down yesterday, school officials said.

Jeffrey L. Morse's decision came after a board meeting at which several residents expressed anger and disappointment with him and the panel.

"He resigned in the best interest of the Board of Education," said Superintendent Charles I. Ecker, speaking on board's behalf. "From the beginning, he didn't want to hurt the board."

During yesterday's session, Morse had said he would not resign, though he had considered doing so many times. But he concluded that "to quit and leave" would send the wrong message and might end the long overdue discussions about race relations in the county.

"There have been a tremendous number of very good conversations around kitchen tables and living rooms ... explaining why what I did was wrong," said Morse, who at times grew emotional as he spoke. "I'm very sorry, and I intend to do everything I can to continue the very good discussions that have occurred, and to try to see that some of the very bad discussions that have occurred stop."

But shortly after the meeting, Morse, who was appointed by the governor to fill a vacant seat last year, decided to resign, according to a statement from the school system.

"It was just a distraction to the board," Ecker said. "Mr. Morse saw that."

Ecker said he would contact the governor's office to determine how to handle Morse's vacant seat. While the governor normally would appoint a replacement, he said, he hopes the board could be allowed to operate with four members instead of five until the election later this year.

The incident occurred a few weeks ago at the construction site of the new Manchester Valley High School, where Morse had gone to learn about problems encountered with some dark rock. When a large boulder was pointed out to him, Morse mentioned a term that he said contractors in the area around Littlestown, Pa., not far from where he lives, used to describe it.

Morse, who teaches biology at Littlestown High School and was running for his first full term this year, previously offered to resign in a closed session that the board held a couple weeks ago to address a complaint filed against him, school officials said. His fellow members instead told him to apologize, said Edmund O'Meally, the board's legal counsel. Morse said he did so the following day, meeting with those who had heard his comment.

During yesterday's meeting, parents who spoke during the public comment period, expressed shock and frustration at the incident. But they varied in their views on what the consequences for his words should be.

Jeanie Falletta, a Mount Airy parent, said she was "appalled that the Board of Education has let Mr. Morse off the hook."

"The board set a precedent: Racial slurs are OK in Carroll County, as long as you apologize afterwards," Falletta said. "That's totally unacceptable."

But Anize Dergham, another parent, said she recognized Morse's comment was "a mistake."

Ronnie Graham, a longtime resident whose daughter is a high school junior, had called for Morse's resignation and was pleased to hear he had stepped down.

"It's unfortunate; it's sad," Graham said. "But I think he did the right thing."

Jean Lewis, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she was sorry that Morse had resigned.

"I was willing to work with him if he was willing to work with us," Lewis said. "I thought we had a teaching opportunity here."

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

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