Another month, another education squabble. In the latest chapter, Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) Superintendent Renee Foose sued the county’s board of education concerning a series of measures taken in December that Foose deemed illegal.
In her complaint, Foose claimed the board’s taking action by assuming authority for hiring and firing board staff and limiting her ability to interact with legal counsel “prevent the superintendent from discharging her legal duty to administer and manage HCPSS.”
During a Jan. 12 board meeting the board amended its previous legal counsel resolution, choosing instead to allow the board to hire its own legal counsel and requiring decisions regarding legal counsel for the school system to be approved by the board.
The sniping continued during the meeting, with board member Sandra French chastising Board Chair Cynthia Vaillancourt for a pattern of keeping French and board member Christine O’Connor uninformed about certain measures the board was voting on, while O’Connor rejected Vaillancourt’s claim that the board was making “ongoing, good faith attempts to work collaboratively with Dr. Foose.”
Adding to the month’s drama was Vaillancourt’s Jan. 18 appearance on Washington, D.C.’s WAMU radio on NPR’s “Kojo Nnamdi Show.” Foose declined the invitation to appear on the same show.
During the segment, former school board member Ann DeLacy phoned in, primarily to identify Vaillancourt as “one of the most dishonest people I have ever met,” before making several attempts to steer Nnamdi’s discussion in a direction he clearly had no intention of taking and was uncomfortable with. Eventually, Nnamdi took a course of action similar to that taken by voters during the last primary election — and hung up on her.
DeLacy appeared again during the board’s Jan. 26 public forum, where she threatened to file an ethics complaint against Vaillancourt for delivering a suspicious document to a Howard County Times reporter. Vaillancourt readily confessed that the document in question was a copy of the board’s public request asking the Maryland State Board of Education to reaffirm the legality of measures taken by the board in December, and was, as such, a matter of public record.
Meanwhile, children in Howard County schools continued their lessons on civility.
Another divisive issue, this one among county residents, precipitated from legislation sponsored by Howard County Councilmembers Calvin Ball (D-Dist. 2) and Jen Terrasa (D-Dist. 3) to declare the jurisdiction a sanctuary county in matters pertaining to cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
More than 400 citizens signed up to speak on the bill, stretching the public hearing into two days of rancorous testimony.
Supporters included two immigration attorneys. Jill Marie Bussey, of Columbia, warned that the Trump administration’s plans would increase deportation and detention rates well beyond the record 2.8 million cases set by former President Obama, requiring sweeps, raids and pressures on local law enforcement agencies to contribute resources without reimbursement.
Attorney Jonathan Greene argued that the U.S. Constitution’s provision giving the federal government exclusive responsibility for immigration enforcement precludes counties from participating, and that the proposed legislation would help keep those functions separated.
“That should be the law in our county, not just policy,” Greene said. “If County Executive Allan Kittleman supports this as a policy, then he should support it as a law.”
Karina Aquiahuatl testified that she spent seven years in the county as an undocumented immigrant before receiving Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status.
“I will have to renew it to stay here and work legally, pay taxes, and I don’t get any of the benefits … or a retirement plan,” she said. “There is a misconception that we are criminals. I’ve contributed to this community. I’m not here to steal or kidnap your children.”
Sherman Howell, vice president of the African American Coalition of Howard County, also spoke in favor of the legislation. “The lack of a policy for undocumented immigrants adds unnecessary risk to the safety and security of immigrant families,” he said, adding that such protection could give them “the opportunity to earn citizenship in the future while contributing [to the community].”
Many opponents made it clear that they do not oppose diversity or immigrants, but do insist on the obligation of every citizen and immigrant to abide by established laws.
Del. Warren Miller (R-9A) cautioned that sanctuary status could result in the loss of millions of federal dollars used to support the county’s budget.
Howard County Police Chief Gary Gardner confirmed that his officers do not ask for immigration status when responding to crimes. Nevertheless, he expressed concern for unintended consequences that could arise from the legislation in terms of targeting gangs, drugs and human trafficking. “This bill could tie our hands in some of those efforts,” Gardner said.
Ellicott City resident Carol Loveless criticized the bill’s political overtones.
“The language of the whereas statements [is] offensive and implies that anyone who supported [President Donald Trump] or thinks immigration should be legal versus illegal is racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, bigoted, prejudiced and hateful,” she said. “Those are your words.”
Tae Kim, representing the Korean Society of Maryland, questioned the legislation’s consequences for legal immigrants who fear the stigma of having others automatically assume they are here illegally and taking advantage of the county’s sanctuary status.
“We don’t need your pity, your sympathy or your protection as if we, as an immigrant community, cannot do and succeed for ourselves on our own merits,” Kim said. “This law will only serve as a false beacon to illegal immigrants to come to Howard County under false pretenses [and] use up the local resources by potentially overcrowding its world-class schools, overburden infrastructure, tax the police and fire departments, draw the ire of the federal government and serve no useful purposes in promoting the hard-working immigrant community that has made Howard County such a desirable landing place for legal immigrants.
“If illegal immigrants can enjoy the benefits just like legal immigrants,” Kim said, “why even bother standing in line?”
The council could vote on the legislation as early as Feb. 6 [the day The Business Monthly hits the streets. Watch for details on www.bizmonthly.com]. County Executive Kittleman has pledged to veto the bill if it passes.
Elevating its dispute with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over implementation of the Next Generation (NextGen) Air Transportation System at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, the Howard County Council is considering legislation authorizing the county’s Office of Law to institute civil action against the FAA.
Columbia Resident Ellen Flaherty informed the council that a noise report conducted on her property between 5 a.m. and midnight over a period of 16 days registered more than 3,000 flights, more than 2,500 of which produced noise in the 65–84 decibel range, levels that the FAA itself has deemed incompatible with residential land use.
“The FAA uses averages to skirt the issue,” Flaherty said, and has only responded to the legal actions brought by other jurisdictions that include Phoenix, New York, Boston and several California cities.