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.
April 10, 2020
Families for Education Improvement (FEI) and its affiliate non-profit FEI Foundation applaud the Howard County BOE and Superintendent Martirano for a rapid response to maintain nutrition assistance to students in need via the Grab-N-Go program. FEI also urges the Howard County BOE to immediately postpone implementation of the Redistricting plan in lieu of more critical and urgent priorities. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the social and educational framework and the BOE needs to focus all human and capital resources in this effort urgently. FEI requests the BOE consider the following immediate priorities:
- Create a task force and develop short-term, intermediate and long-term plans to maintain student, teacher and staff health and safety in order for schools to reopen.
- Develop more comprehensive on-line learning processes and protocols to allow uninterrupted education for all grades that meet the same standards of education that HCPSS provided via in-classroom education. The BOE and HCPSS must consider distance learning to be a priority.
- Reevaluate all operating budget decisions in light of the potential for a significantly different operating environment.
HCPSS must deliver rigorous education opportunities to ALL students in Howard County, while also determining how to provide additional resources directly to students for whom distance learning may create challenges such as special needs and families without in-home access to internet connectivity. The county is entering an unprecedented situation with regard to public health concerns and also economic disruption. Governor Hogan announced an immediate State budget freeze and anticipates that declines in state revenue due to COVID-19 will impact state budgets for years to come. We should expect similar COVID-19 ramifications at the county level. In the last 3 weeks, over 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits. Many economists now predict that the national unemployment rate could reach or exceed 20%. The Socio-economic status (SES) data upon which the prior Redistricting was based, is now obsolete and useless in attempting to balance needs among schools. HCPSS and BOE must consider the potential for a dramatic increase in FARM needs at all schools and grade levels. Many additional families across all regions of Howard County will be experiencing economic hardship and the BOE needs to focus on (1) an operating plan for distance learning (2) an operating plan that prioritizes safety and health and (3) capital spending plan that focuses resources and delivery of educational opportunities to the students and anticipates significantly greater FARMS needs.
FEI Strongly Endorses Christina Delmont-Small for Re-election to the Howard County Board of Education – District 1
The voice of Howard County parents and students was overwhelmingly clear during the recent redistricting process. Alongside thousands of Howard County residents, FEI implored the Board of Education to move the fewest possible students to address overcrowding, while keeping neighborhoods together and communities stable. FEI advocated for separate, evidence-based strategies to address the achievement gap. Yet, the majority of BOE members failed to listen to the community, and instead chose to thrust their agendas upon constituents with a lack of transparency and integrity. It was a display of failed government – when elected representatives ignore the key values upon which our nation was founded – “We the People.”
At a time when Howard County is in desperate need of effective leadership, Christina Delmont-Small has distinguished herself as a steadfast and courageous voice of the people – a true leader for the students and parents of Howard County. Her values align with those of Families for Education Improvement, and therefore FEI is proud to strongly endorse Christina Delmont-Small for re-election to the Howard County Board of Education (BOE) District 1.
Listening to the Community
After the BOE vote, Ms. Delmont-Small released a statement thanking the community for their engagement and advocacy. She expressed deep frustration with the redistricting process and outcome, and also affirmed the need for our leaders to listen to the community:
“Listening to the community is vital to making the best possible decisions for all of our students and has made my voice stronger throughout this process because I heard your concerns and ideas.”
Ms. Delmont-Small has demonstrated that she will engage and listen to all members of the community, and advocate strongly on their behalf.
Check and Balance to our Local Government
Ms. Delmont Small does her own research. She is data-driven, and has repeatedly emphasized the need for the BOE to base their policy decisions on accurate data. She will continue to serve as an important check and balance on our local government, and her independent, logical, and evidence-based decision- making will ensure the BOE makes prudent and appropriate decisions for our students.
Advocate for Responsible Spending
At a time when the Howard County Public School System is facing unprecedented budget shortfalls, Ms. Delmont-Small will be a consistent watchdog of unnecessary and inappropriate spending. She is detail-
oriented and laser focused in her analysis, and this will be critical as the BOE makes decisions about how to allocate funding to best meet the needs of our students.
A Proven Track Record
Unfortunately, we have seen our elected leaders’ actions in office defy their campaign promises. In contrast, Christina Delmont-Small’s track record in office is proven and speaks for itself. She has the experience and integrity to build a better BOE and better future for our students.
FEI is proud to endorse Ms. Delmont-Small and encourages our community to fully support her efforts for re-election. To learn more about how you can donate, volunteer, or host a fundraiser for Christina Delmont-Small, visit https://christinaforboe.org/.
FEI has not yet endorsed any other candidates for BOE, but will continue to thoroughly assess each candidate’s credentials and values over the weeks ahead, leading up to the April 28, 2020 elections.