Archives for 2020
Howard County Families for Education Improvement (FEI) is proud to strongly endorse Dr. Yun Lu for election to the Howard County Board of Education (BOE) in District 5.
FEI’s mission is to ensure every child in Howard County has access to an outstanding education that will enable them to build a successful future. The Howard County school system and the Board of Education are at a critical juncture. The once prominent reputation of the Howard County Public School System is in jeopardy because decisions are being made based on divisive politics, rather than based on data, community input, and what’s best for our children. Real change is needed, and the choice is clear in District 5 – Dr. Yun Lu will bring evidence-based decision-making and collaboration to the BOE and help get HCPSS back on track.
Dr. Lu is a mother of two school-age children in Howard County public schools, a passionate community volunteer, a weekend math teacher, and a full-time statistician working for a federal public health agency. She obtained her Ph.D. in Biostatistics from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and has worked for over a decade as a public health data scientist. She serves on the Board of Education Operating Budget Review Committee (OBRC), and believes in fiscal discipline to ensure long term financial stability of HCPSS. Yun has been a long-time PTA member, a Math Counts team coach, and school and community volunteer. She cares deeply about those most vulnerable in our community and has volunteered at every single FEI Foundation Food Pantry during the pandemic, delivering food to families in need. Dr. Lu will bring many important and needed skills to the BOE.
Dr. Lu has stated that she never imagined running for any election, but after observing the decision making process at the BOE last Fall during redistricting, she felt compelled to run. Throughout the redistricting process, she voiced her concerns at public hearings that the Board was relying on inaccurate data, flawed analysis, and inappropriate missing data imputation. For decisions that have a direct impact on tens of thousands of children and their families and all Howard County communities, Dr. Lu believes we must do better. Unfortunately, the BOE has continued to show disregard for a data driven approach, as evidenced by the surprising push by some Board members to vote on a motion in September 2020 to remove School Resource Officers (SROs) from HCPSS schools, without any data upon which to base their decision and without any community dialogue or input. In response, Dr. Lu released the following statement: “What really concerns me was the board voted on a topic that lacks enough information, public discussion among the board members, and public input. As a statistician, I think the BOE should follow science and data to make sound decisions for the future of Howard County children.” We need an accomplished data scientist like Dr. Lu on the BOE – to ensure that important decisions are based on evidence, rather than emotion.
Kids First – Making Children the First Priority in Education
Yun believes that the BOE should base all their decisions on one simple principle – putting kids first. She cares deeply about ensuring the success of every child in HCPSS, and understands the challenges faced by those members of our community who are in need and have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Dr. Lu has also made clear that the mental health of our students will be a top priority for her on the Board. She will ensure that HCPSS takes an evidence-based approach to assess and respond to the mental health needs of students, a particularly important priority as a result of the psychological toll the pandemic is having on our children.
Collaboration and Working Together
The Board of Education is supposed to be non-partisan because politics has no place in education. Yet unfortunately, we have seen divisive political, special interest, and ideological agendas unduly influence the BOE and HCPSS leadership. The Howard County community is calling for decisive change. Dr. Yun Lu will bring that change. She has the temperament and skill set to bring diverse groups together to work towards solutions that put students first. When the BOE and county leaders don’t work together, students and communities suffer. She will foster collaborations between the BOE, county leaders and the community to ensure long-term planning that is thoughtful, responsible, and evidence-based.
The choice could not be more clear in District 5. FEI is proud to join other key Howard County organizations, including the Indian Origin Network of Howard County (IONHoCo) and the Chinese American Political Association Political Action Committee (CAPA PAC), who have also endorsed Dr. Yun Lu. We encourage our community to fully support her efforts for election. To learn more about how you can donate or volunteer for Yun Lu, visit https://www.lu4boe.org or https://www.facebook.com/lu4boe.
Howard County Families for Education Improvement (FEI) is proud to strongly endorse Sezin Palmer for election to the Howard County Board of Education (BOE) in District 4.
FEI’s mission is to ensure every child in Howard County has access to an outstanding education that will enable them to build a successful future. The Howard County school system is at a critical juncture, with staggering budget deficits, lack of a clear educational strategy during the pandemic, and undue influence of politics on the school system’s dealings. The choice is clear in District 4 – Sezin Palmer will value the community’s input over special interests and will use her executive leadership skills to get the BOE and HCPSS back on track.
Ms. Palmer is a lifelong Howard County resident, who herself graduated from HCPSS and now has two children in the school system. She is an accomplished executive leader in a large research and development organization in Howard County, managing a budget of over $60 million in funding. The child of immigrants, her family made education a top priority. She was the first in her family to attend college, obtaining bachelors and masters degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins. She has dedicated herself to national service both professionally and in her community work, serving on PTAs and Boosters for over 10 years and actively supporting many charitable organizations. She cares deeply about those most vulnerable in our community – our children – and has been an active volunteer in recent weeks delivering food to families in need at the FEI Foundation Food Pantry. Sezin will bring many important and needed skills to the BOE.
HCPSS is facing significant financial challenges, with looming budget deficits and lack of adequate budgetary planning and accountability in spending. As a seasoned research and development executive leader, Sezin manages a team of over 200 staff and a $60 million budget. She will bring to the BOE a track record of sound decision-making and management of competing financial and organizational priorities within a complex organization. She is used to making thoughtful decisions based on data and evidence. That leadership and experience is unmatched, and much needed given the current challenges faced by HCPSS.
Transparency: Standing against Special Interests
Sezin strongly believes that politics and special interest influence should have no place in the education of our children. The Howard County community deserves elected leaders who prioritize transparency and ethical conduct. To get HCPSS back on track, the stranglehold of developer and other special interest influence on HCPSS decisions must end, and Sezin will be a fierce advocate for our children’s best interests. She will work to restore the community’s trust in their educational leaders.
Valuing Community Input and Bringing Communities Together
At a time when many of our elected leaders have sought to use the education of children as a platform to divide us, we need leaders like Sezin who will unite communities across Howard County. Sezin strongly believes that valuing the community’s input and diverse viewpoints will allow for the best solutions to HCPSS’ most challenging problems. She has a proven track record of working collaboratively across complex organizations, and bringing stakeholders together around common goals. Her collaborative approach is much needed at this critical time for HCPSS.
The choice could not be more clear in District 4. FEI is proud to endorse Sezin Palmer and encourages our community to fully support her efforts for election. To learn more about how you can donate or volunteer for Sezin Palmer, visit https://www.sezin4boe.org or https://www.facebook.com/sezin4boe/.
FEI will be endorsing candidates for BOE in other districts over the coming weeks.
Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) Employee Admits Using Social Media to Justify Denial of Special Needs Exemption
Further Testimony Reveals Deliberate HCPSS Violations of Privacy Rights of Special Needs Child
During testimony last week in the first of several redistricting appeal trials before the Office of Administrative Hearings, a HCPSS Specialist for Student Reassignment & Residency admitted she used social media accounts such as Facebook to judge the motivation of parents who had applied for an exemption for their child to remain at their current school under HCPSS Policy 9000. The policy allows children with an individualized education program (IEP) or 504 plan who are redistricted to request to remain at their current school.
“We were stunned,” said Lorraine Lawrence-Whittaker of the Howard County, Maryland law firm Lawrence Whittaker, PC. “The employee admitted that she looked up the social media posts of parents to determine the motivation of the exemption request, even going so far as to call it her ‘right’ and if those accounts were not set to private, in her words, they were ‘fair game,’” said Lawrence-Whittaker.
It is required that the IEPs and 504 plans remain private due to inclusion of students’ medical evaluations. As a result, the plans are protected as private under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
The HCPSS employee further testified that because she did not have the authority to review the IEPs or 504 plans, she would seek out the assistance of other HCPSS Central Office employees and have them tell her the contents.
“The HCPSS’ bureaucracy openly used this ‘work-around’ to violate the privacy rights of special needs children affected by the redistricting process,” revealed Lawrence-Whittaker. “So, instead of just processing what should be a ministerial request for a redistricting exemption from families of students who are otherwise completely entitled to it under the Board’s Policy 9000, bureaucrats in the Central Office appear to have engaged in extensive abuses of power against special education parents advocating for the best interests of their children.”
The action is among several other redistricting appeals to be heard at trial in the coming days by the Office of Administrative Hearings. This particular action at issue was filed by three families whose children were denied access to the automatic exemption that was afforded other children with IEPs or 504 plans.
Howard County Families for Education Improvement (FEI) helped to support the appeals, and expressed deep concern about the tactics HCPSS admitted using in reviewing and denying these special needs exemptions. “FEI advocates for every child in Howard County, including our most vulnerable, special needs students,” said Vipin Sahijwani, FEI President. “The information which has come to light in trial is alarming and raises serious questions which must be answered by HCPSS leadership. HCPSS employees are supposed to objectively evaluate parent requests and strictly adhere to privacy rules, and instead they appear to have abused the power of their positions. HCPSS employees cannot be allowed to retaliate against innocent children based on the personal views of their parents expressed on social media or otherwise. Our special needs students and their parents deserve better.”
“Policy 9000 allows for students with IEPs or 504 plans who are redistricted to remain at their current school,” said Lawrence-Whittaker. “Students who were still working through the lengthy process of obtaining an IEP or 504 plan for their child at the time of the Board’s vote on redistricting on November 21, 2019 were not afforded this automatic exemption. We challenged this arbitrary cut-off date since it treated two sets of students differently contrary to Policy 9000.”
Ninety HCPSS students out of the approximately 5400 students moved in the redistricting obtained IEPs or 504 plans after the November 21st redistricting vote.
“During my examination of witnesses from the Central Office, including the Specialist for Student Reassignment & Residency, we heard testimony that this “cut off” date was determined solely by staffers in the office – this was not a date determined by the Board and so-called ‘cut off dates’ are not in Policy 9000 itself,” explained Lawrence-Whittaker. “It appears this was done purely for administrative expediency, and not in the best interests of the specific special education students or educators involved.”
“Meanwhile, Central Office staff was more than willing to extend the deadline to claim exemptions for other reasons, and in fact contacted parents who had not yet made an election for other exemptions. However, they never contacted parents who were in the process of obtaining or had recently obtained an IEP or 504 plan to inform them of how to apply for a special needs exemption under Policy 9000,” said Lawrence Whittaker.
To schedule an interview with Lorraine Lawrence-Whittaker contact (410) 997-4100.