Editorial: School board should drop petty quarrels, focus on job

The District of Columbia Council this week approved a ban on members using "profane, indecent or abusive language" at public meetings, a suggestion that came after a heated, profanity-laced exchange between a couple of council members, including former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, a couple of weeks ago.

"It's time for members to understand decorum, and a code of conduct, is in place," Chairman Kwame Brown told The Washington Post.

Besides the profanity, Barry's opponent in this battle, David Catania, reportedly called the former mayor "a despicable human being," and Barry admitted that the exchange nearly devolved into a fistfight.

Those ugly doings in Washington, coincidentally enough, came at about the same time members of the Howard County school board were involved in a bit of indecorous behavior themselves. And while the school board members' behavior did not sink even close to the level of that exhibited by the D.C. Council, it was, by most standards and especially by the standards of civil Howard County, an unpleasant display unbecoming of a school board.

At their meeting Feb. 9, board members were debating a proposal to eliminate much of the reading program for middle school students when the discussion veered off course. The trouble began when board member Brian Meshkin, who participated via teleconference from California, accused board leaders of letting him participate in that capacity only because they needed his vote.

From there it was all downhill, with Meshkin, board Chairman Sandra French and former chairman Frank Aquino airing petty complaints and swapping accusations of deceit and lying, and Allen Dyer unexpectedly chiming in with the request that members drop their effort to impeach him, presumably since what was happening on the board was so much worse than anything he ever did.

To which, fellow board member Ellen Giles responded, in a phrase that pretty much defined what was wrong with the whole debate: "This is not about you, or me, or anybody here."

Yes, that was it. Those exchanges and comments had nothing to do with teaching reading in middle schools. They had, in fact, nothing to do with teaching or policies or students or anything in the classrooms. Instead, they were all about the members' own feelings and personalities, quirks and needs. And why, in a public meeting, members would choose to air those feelings as they did is hard to imagine.

Does the school board need mediation, as the teachers union suggested afterward? Seems a little extreme, at least for now. How about some parliamentary assistance from a disinterested party, as the union also suggested? That might make more sense.

At the very least, board members need to step back from their personal feelings, take a hard look at their behavior at the Feb. 9 meeting and resolve to drop the petty quarrels and keep their focus on the job they were elected to do.

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