I am a member of the Board of Education of Baltimore County who voted against Dallas Dance's employment contract renewal earlier this year because I think his job performance warranted it. As a fair person, I was on the fence about whether Mr. Dance's recent controversial retweet and his explanation of it should be cause for his dismissal.
On Nov. 8, Mr. Dance retweeted a post from former Montgomery County School superintendent Joshua Starr. It read: "Educators: tomorrow pls show your muslim, black, latino, jewish, disabled, or just non-white St's, that you love them and will protect them!"
later explained in a statement that he always leads "from an equity lens with an intense focus on all student populations and ensuring they feel welcome and supported. Education is not void of politics and during the last two years, our country has had one of the most divisive campaigns in modern history. Comments were made that disenfranchised several groups of students we serve in Baltimore County Public Schools. As our nation moves forward, it is our collective responsibility to make sure all students feel safe and know we are their advocates."
Everyone is hyper-sensitive on issues of race, and the week after one of the most contentious election campaigns this nation has ever witnessed is not the time for a social media post laden with both racial and political undertones. It was very poor judgment.
In a letter to Mr. Dance, I outlined my initial issues with the post, chief among them his singling out and exclusion of white students and the interjection of his personal political views.
I was astonished to find that several days later, Mr. Dance had still not taken down the post. In fact, he had doubled-down his efforts to justify it. So I sent him an email to ask him to remove it.
It has been four days that your controversial retweet has been up which many find to be offensive and inappropriate. It has caused division and incited fear. Please remove it and make a public apology to our students, staff, and parents which should include assurance that our system will not be used as a conduit for schoolhouse activism and will be inclusive of all our students and staff regardless of their demographics.
His reply was what convinced me he should resign or be terminated.
Please know that as with several of your emails to me, I find this email disrespectful and offensive. But, this has been your demeanor toward me since even before you had a chance to meet me so I don't know why I would expect anything different.
At any rate, under no circumstance will will[sic] I remove the tweet.
As you are going to post this email, please know you have my permission to do so.
Enjoy your weekend, and I will not be responding to any additional emails on this topic.
Had Mr. Dance of his own accord recognized his poor judgment from the start and the divisiveness it was causing, taken the post down and apologized, I would not be calling for his resignation.
Had this incident occurred in a vacuum, by a superintendent with whom I otherwise had no issues, I would not be calling for his resignation. However, Mr. Dance can't keep himself out of controversy. He required a waiver in order to be hired by BCPS, he now has two ethics violations under his belt, the only evidence of success of his expensive STAT program is falling PARCC scores, his prioritization of our crumbling facilities is so neglectful that the Board of Public Works felt obligated to require immediate air conditioning relief in our schools, and now this retweet.
We like to say that we hold our leaders to a higher standard of conduct. But the reality is that it is a big deal to fire someone in a position of authority. We don't do it unless we have more than enough reason. The cumulative effect of his many controversies and poor performance has given us more than enough reason.
Even if Mr. Dance feels his post was justified, he should recognize the division this is causing in our school system, county and beyond. He should have taken it down, even if he chose not to apologize. A petition calling for Mr. Dance's termination has garnered over 2,400 signatures in a matter of a few days.
I have had BCPS parents tell me their student was bullied because they supported Donald Trump, and I have had numerous BCPS teachers tell me they were offended by the retweet. A simple Google search will bring up disturbing videos of students being viciously and violently attacked in school due to their support for Mr. Trump. There are white Clinton supporters and black Trump supporters. So the whole truth is that justifications made on the basis of demographics are biased by one's political views. The very existence of this countywide argument is evident of the divisive nature of the retweet. It is causing division and racial tensions, when we need healing and unity. To date, Mr. Dance has still not removed the post, made on his "official Twitter account for Superintendent of BCPS." His hubris is getting in the way of his judgment.
I held back on calling for his resignation in part because I didn't want to join the chorus of people who treat racial issues as though we are a nation of thought policers. Racism itself is not illegal, just immoral, unless one is using it to violate the rights of others, such as life, liberty or their livelihood. But no one is calling for Mr. Dance's arrest, and we are faced with deciding whether his action warrants his dismissal or some lesser sanction.
We have board policy that defines a code of conduct and acceptable use of social media. Mr. Dance has used these policies to terminate teachers' employment. As a BCPS employee, Mr. Dance is also subject to board policy. If we fail to enforce board policy with regard to our superintendent, are those policies moot? Does it give teachers who have been terminated under them a case against BCPS?
The Board of Education of Baltimore County has had no direction yet from its leadership. The board should ask the state superintendent of schools, who has the authority to remove a county superintendent, to ask for his voluntary resignation or terminate him. If the local board does not act, the public should ask the state superintendent to act.
Ann Miller is an at large member of the Board of Education of Baltimore County; her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.