Friday, August 22, 2014

Montgomery County is establishing a 7,200-square-foot garden to grow its own produce.

The Washington Post:  Back-to-school: School lunches are packing a healthier punch

Eastern MS Changes School Start Time

Remember all that dust up over changing the start times of schools?  Apparently, changing a start time is actually no big deal and any school can do it anytime. 

Arrive after 7:45 AM and you are tardy!  

Look at how easy that was! No budget implications! No bus schedule issues! No work group!  
One school just changed the start time of school without any fuss! 

MCPS' middle school start time is actually 7:55 AM.  That's the time the students at other MCPS middle school students will be arriving at school. 


MCPS will not permit cell towers on top of schools

The things you learn when you read the fine print!

On page 5 (circle 19) of the special exception filed with the City of Rockville (see below) we learn that "the Board of Education of Montgomery County will not permit rooftop wireless communication facilities on their properties."

Now this is interesting because the Board of Education has never, ever discussed or voted on this.  Yet, somehow there is a prohibition on cell towers on school roofs.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Md. agency failed to monitor placement of foster children, audit says

Md. agency failed to monitor placement of foster children, audit says

Bowie parents push back against school cell tower proposals

Bowie parents push back against school cell tower proposals

A group of Bowie and Prince George's County parents have banded together to stop construction of cellphone towers at public schools, and hope the first week of school will boost their numbers.
Parents against the proposals fear electromagnetic and radio-frequency emissions from cell towers pose a health risk for the children, possibly hurting their ability to learn.
"I think we can all agree we have enough cellphone towers across the nation and the students shouldn't be sold out," said Charlene Beairsto, a Bowie parent who opposes building cell towers at schools...
- See more at: http://www.capitalgazette.com/bowie_bladenews/news/ph-ac-bb-cell-towers-20140821,0,5678714.story#sthash.1XqeVEuO.dpuf

Complaint Opens Meetings, Forces Release of Memo

The Washington Post Editorial
The Maryland Open Meetings Act Compliance Board has released their opinion concerning the secret meetings of Board President Phil Kauffman's credit card committee.

The original complaint was filed on May 31, 2014, by a member of the Parents' Coalition. The filing of the Complaint brought to light the creation of a backroom committee to discuss the Board of Education's (BOE) use of credit cards. When the complaint was filed the committee had already been formed and had met without any public notice.

On June 8, 2014, The Washington Post published a lengthy Editorial suggesting that the BOE had something to hide.

After the Complaint was filed, BOE President Kauffman changed his mind and made subsequent meetings of the credit card committee open to the public. As part of the filings that followed the initial Complaint, the BOE finally released the memorandum that had created the backroom credit card committee. The memorandum was made public on July 16th, almost two months after the committee had been created.

The filing of the Open Meetings Act complaint on May 31st was the catalyst for the opening of future meetings of this committee and forced the BOE to release the memorandum that originally created the committee.

The Open Meetings Act Compliance Board has determined that BOE President Kauffman's creation of a backroom, closed door committee did not actually violate current Maryland Open Meetings Act law. However, the process of permitting the public to question actions of boards by the filing of a complaint regarding the Maryland Open Meetings Act served to push the BOE to open meetings that otherwise would have been closed.

Through the complaint procedure, a member of the public was allowed to question a secret, closed door meeting and bring attention to the backroom dealings of a Board of Education. Shining a light on this backroom committee forced its existence into the sunlight and allowed the public and the press to attend and observe subsequent meetings.

Mendon-Upton iPad policy prompts ACLU complaint - Worcester Telegram & Gazette - telegram.com

Mendon-Upton iPad policy prompts ACLU complaint - Worcester Telegram & Gazette - telegram.com

BOE to Hide for 3 1/2 Hours Today in Closed Meeting

This mornings Board of Education Closed Session is 2 1/2 hours long!

What in the world is the Board of Education discussing this morning for 2 1/2 hours?  The Agenda for this mornings Closed Session lists a few topics, but nothing that would necessitate over 2 hours of discussion.

The Closed Session will continue with another hour of closed discussion at lunch time. That's a total of 3 1/2 hours of Closed Session today.

The Board has Open Meetings that barely last that long.

Note that the final item on the Board's Closed Session Agenda concerns the recent decision of the Maryland Open Meetings Act Compliance Board.  We assume this will be a discussion of the Opinion of the Compliance Board. Why is that public Opinion a topic for a secret meeting? Guess they have something to hide.

Oh, and by the way, the Closed Session goes until 11:30 PM.  So for all you members of the press and public who believed the Board's Agenda when it said today's meeting would start at 11:00 AM, you might want to adjust your schedules. The Montgomery County Board of Education would rather meet in private without you in the room.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

BOE Spent $15,556 on Venable LLP in FIRST Month of Credit Card Scandal








The Board of Education has just released their Legal Fees Report for May 2014.  The report shows that in the first month of the MCPS credit card scandal the Board of Education spent $15,556 on the Venable LLP law firm reviewing expense reimbursements.

The MCPS credit card scandal went on for months and has not yet concluded.

Imagine what the BOE has paid Venable LLP over the course of the summer.

Stay tuned for the monthly totals.

Breaking News: A Lot to Hide in Milestone Cell Tower Deal!

Way back in 2010 the Prince George's County Board of Education signed up for Doug Duncan's "no brainer" public school playground cell tower deal.

In just 40 seconds the Prince George's Board of Education discussed and voted on the construction of multiple cell towers on each of 73 of their public school playgrounds.

Now in 2014, Prince George's County communities are finding out that multiple cell towers are going to be built on their neighborhood public school playgrounds.

We asked for documents, e-mails and correspondence that would explain what is going on between the Prince George's County Board of Education and Milestone Communications Management III, Inc. through a Maryland Public Information Act request. 

It looks like quite a lot has gone on in just the last year between the PG Board of Education and Milestone Communications Management III.  So much has gone on that the PG Board of Education is charging us $4,532 to see these documents!

$4,532!  There has obviously been a lot of behind the scenes communication between the PG Board of Education and Milestone Communications Management III, Inc.

Remember the public discussion of this "no brainer" deal only took 40 seconds back in 2010.  

Looks like the public has been missing out on quite a bit behind the scenes!


Exclusive: BOE Produces Memo Previously Withheld from Public


After the Parents' Coalition filed an Open Meetings Act complaint with the Maryland Open Meetings Act Compliance Board the Montgomery County Board of Education (BOE) finally made public the memorandum from Board President Phil Kauffman that established the credit card committee.

Note that the BOE did not produce this memorandum in their initial response to the Open Meetings Act Compliance Board.

The BOE did not produce this memorandum until July 16th, five days after the Parents' Coalition alerted the Open Meetings Act Compliance Board to its existence. 

The memorandum, shown below in SCRIBD, from BOE President Phil Kauffman states that the backroom, no public allowed credit card committee was initially established just because Mr. Kauffman decided it was time to review the policy. 

The memorandum makes no mention of the fact that members of the Parents' Coalition had picked up over 300 pages of Board member credit card bills and expense reports just two days earlier on April 23, 2014



----------------------------------------------------------------------
From: KMKoger@Venable.com
To: opengov@oag.state.md.us; AMacNeille@oag.state.md.us
CC: -------SMWilliams@Venable.com; KMKoger@Venable.com
Date: Wed, 16 Jul 2014 10:45:44 -0400
Subject: RE: Open Meetings Act Complaint (MCPS) - response to Venable LLP

Ms. MacNeille:

Attached please find a copy of the April 25, 2014 Memorandum referenced by Ms. Wilson in her July 11, 2014 letter.  As noted in the Memorandum, Board of Education President Philip Kauffman created the ad hoc committee to review the processes and guidelines relating to Board of Education expenditures as set forth in the Board of Education’s Handbook.  In reviewing such processes and guidelines, the ad hoc committee is carrying out an administrative function and is not developing new policies for Board of Education expenditures as suggested by Ms. Wilson.  As noted in my letter of July 3, 2014, the Open Meetings Act also did not apply to the gathering of the ad hoc committee because such gathering did not involve a quorum of the Board of Education and the ad hoc committee is not a public body that is subject to the Open Meetings Act.   Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions.

Kristin M. Koger, Esq. | Venable LLP
t 301.217.5643 | f 301.217.5617
One Church Street, Fifth Floor, Rockville, MD 20850



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

BOE Withholds Memo from Open Meetings Act Compliance Board

Open Meetings Act
This is the reply to the Board of Education's response to the Open Meetings Act complaint filed regarding the conduct of the Board of Education's credit card committee. 





July 11, 2014

Ann MacNeille
Assistant Attorney General
Counsel, Open Meetings Compliance Board
200 St. Paul Place
Baltimore, MD 21202


Re: Open Meetings Act Complaint - Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education

Dear Ms. MacNeille,

I am following up on the complaint I filed with your office on May 31, 2014 over an apparent
violation of the Maryland Open Meetings Act by the Montgomery County Board of Education. After
receiving a reply from the Board of Education on July 5 I am seeking to offer a clarification regarding the work of the ad hoc committee that allegedly first met out of the public view on May 6.

According to the Montgomery County Public Information Officer, Dana Tofig, the ad hoc
committee was created by a memorandum dated April 25, 2014, from Board of Education President Phil Kauffman. It is a major omission on the part of the Board of Education that the April 25th memorandum was not included in the Board's response to the Open Meeting Act Compliance Board. The memorandum is not publicly available on the Board of Education website. That document is needed to fully understand how this committee was created and the purpose of the committee. The failure of the Board of Education to produce this memorandum hampers the ability of the Open Meetings Compliance Board to render an accurate opinion in this matter.

The Board of Education's response speaks to a "gathering" as if somehow by re-naming a
meeting of Board of Education members the Open Meeting Act can be ignored. The ad hoc committee
has been meeting to conduct Board business and refine Board policy. The minutes show that the Board
members have discussed the use, misuse and abuse of school system credit cards. The Board members
have been meeting to formulate Board policy for use of school system credit cards going forward.

The Board of Education notes that the Montgomery County Public Schools general counsel has
participated in this committee. It is important to note that the Montgomery County Public School
general counsel is not the general counsel for the Board of Education. The Board of Education has their
own, separate legal counsel. The presence of the school system's general counsel would seem to
indicate that this committee will be reviewing the credit card policy of not only the Board of Education, but of the entire school system.

The ad hoc committee created by Board of Education President Phil Kauffman:
  1. is engaged in an advisory function as it discusses the development of new policy for Board expenditures
  2. it discusses a matter that is of great concern to the public
  3. is scheduled to report and make its recommendations to the full Board of Education at a meeting on July 28
The actions of the Board of Education have so far demonstrated a clear intention to circumvent
the Open Meetings Act. The expectation from the public is that matters such as board expense policies
would be discussed publicly. I am submitting a copy of a Washington Post Editorial that I believe reflects the mood of the public on this issue.

The initial action to exclude the public was criticized by many Montgomery County elected
officials and attracted the attention of the State Prosecutor who is currently conducting a criminal
investigation into Board of Education expenditures.

Thank you for your attention in this matter.

Sincerely,

Danuta Wilson
Attachments (5)
Cc:Kristin M. Koger

Monday, August 18, 2014

BOE Response to Open Meetings Act Complaint

On May 31, 2014, a member of the Parents' Coalition filed an Open Meetings Act Complaint regarding the secret meetings of the Board of Education credit card committee. 

Below is the response from the Board of Education to this complaint.

Note that the Board used the Venable LLP law firm to write this response to the Open Meetings Act Compliance Board. That is the same law firm that later stated "outside counsel did not uncover evidence of intentional action to improperly use credit cards for personal expenses."

In the Board of Education's response they contend that the credit card committee is not subject to the Maryland Open Meetings Act requirements.  Yet, the Board of Education notes in the final paragraph of this response that meetings of the credit card committee have now been opened up to the public. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

MCPS: “The public would misuse the data.”

My Two Cents: Praise For Greater Government Transparency

...When on the telephone with Dr. Zuckerman, I mentioned that it seemed odd to me that MCPS — a modern and sophisticated public organization — wasn’t more open and transparent. Being such at has never been easier than right now. Beyond the MCPS Foundation books, I mentioned Schools at a Glance and asked, “Why is such a key, and public MCPS data file not available as a downloadable Excel file?”
His answer (not a direct word-for-word quote, but close enough): “The public would misuse the data.”
What?
...

August 19th: Lawrence Joynes Status Hearing

Docket Date:07/25/2014 Docket Number: 42
Docket Description:MOTION, POSTPONEMENT
Docket Type:Motion Filed By: Defendant Status: Granted
Docket Text:COURT REPRESENTS (QUIRK,J.) DEFENDANT'S ORAL MOTION TO POSTPONE MOTION PURSUANT TO MARYLAND RULE 4-252 & 4-253 (DE#22) AND STATUS HEARING - GRANTED. COURT POSTPONES DEFENDANT'S MOTION AND STATUS HEARING TO AUGUST 19, 2014 AT 9:00 A.M. (CODE:JJ).

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Exclusive: E-mail from JWMS Principal "We're ready to go."

The Parents' Coalition has obtained MCPS e-mails concerning a proposal (again) to put a cell tower compound on the Julius West Middle School playground.  

The October 9, 2013, e-mail from the principal, Craig Stanton, to MCPS' Real Estate office shows that the principal does not understand the law that must be followed in order to construct a cell tower compound on the Julius West Middle School playground.  A community meeting to present the plans is not optional, it is mandatory.  The vote of a "PTA" is meaningless to the process that must legally be followed to construct a cell tower compound in a neighborhood. 

Now try and reconcile the e-mail from the JWMS principal below with the statement from MCPS in this August 6th Gazette article. Which version of the PTA response is the truth? 

If MCPS principals want to be in the cell tower construction business it's time for them to learn the law, and then follow it.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

City of Rockville Tricked

Take a look at this 2005 application for a special exception to build a cell tower on the Julius West Middle School playground.  The special exception application was filed by an employee of T-Mobile.

Julius West Middle School land is owned by the Montgomery County Board of Education.
The Board of Education is the legal owner of the land and is the party that would file for a special exception. Note the T-Mobile employee certifies that she has the authority to make this application.  What authority would that be?

Where was the Board of Education vote to approve this construction?  There wasn't one!

Under what authority can private companies file for special exceptions to build on public school land in Montgomery County?

Why did the City of Rockville spend any time processing this application when it wasn't signed by the property owner?

Ultimately, this application was withdrawn and the cell tower was never constructed, but what is to keep this from happening again? Can anyone file for a special exception to build on public school land in Montgomery County?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Guest Post: Communication is a Human Right

2014 Syracuse University Conference Schedule
MCPS Director of Special Education Gwen Mason and parents from the Montgomery County autism pilot program spoke at Syracuse University (Douglas Biklen, leading researcher of Facilitated Communication and at this university) at their annual conference in July.  This university conference is solely about facilitated communication (FC).   As FC is of such great controversy, the newer terminology to avoid this is supported typing.  However, Syracuse is firm about keeping the FC name.   The Montgomery County Autism Pilot project does not use the name of FC to avoid this controversy, but did however, go to a conference on Facilitated Communication and presented their program there as a mode.

By way of history---- there was a tremendous amount of controversy in setting up the Montgomery County class-- the autism program under Kris Secan did NOT support or agree with it at all, and the parents of the 5 children were the ones that pushed to get the program. Their efforts including due process at the hearing levels, IEP meetings, and due process where MCPS rejected and would not enter psychological results completed by other leading professionals in the field that used facilitated typing into the IEPs, and labeled the data as invalid.  MCPS Director Gwen Mason and others worked to make it happen- not the Autism program under Kris Secan. Indeed, Kris Secan's staff are not involved ( or minimally involved) in it. 

The controversy on FC, (now usually called supported typing) continues within MCPS and the autism professionals that work there.  Many even refused to go the trainings that were held by staff from Syracuse University in MCPS.

In addition, there are speech pathologists in MCPS who have been trained privately in Texas and Syracuse in the methodology and are NOT ALLOWED to use them in MCPS  (unless they are in the Pilot program of course) .  All of them I know practice privately and deliver the supports in their practices. 

The problem of equal access to the program and even the strategies/technology in it  is significant. My hunch is that maybe there is a perception that kids who should have supportive typing technology available to them are ONLY those who are perceived as being more "high functioning" or  worse, have had to prove that they are!   

This is outrageous,  because communication is a human right, regardless of how "low or high functioning" someone is , and to deprive somewhat of the right to communicate in a way that might work for them is unethical and immoral.  It would be like not giving a kid with intellectual disabilities eye glasses when he needs them because he is perceived as "not smart enough"   Seeing is a human right, so is communicating.   Access to medical treatments for diseases are not withheld based on intellectual ability,  and neither should educational strategies be either.

Furthermore,  depriving someone of the opportunity to even see (have access to) if supported typing (or other technology) might help them communicate better at their level is even more wrong.  No matter where you stand on the FC/facilitated typing debate, the bottom line is that access to any technology or strategy should be non-discriminatory.  And, to determine if a strategy or technology is effective, there has to be a time period where it is tried and taught and practiced first.  Right now, most children with autism and other disabilities can't make it to the point where they get this opportunity.  I love research and follow it obsessively, but aIso believe that what counts is what works for what child at what time in their lives!

Many parents had the resources and supports to access and pay for facilitated typing training and are truly ground breakers in sharing this with MCPS and convincing them to start the project, and they may indeed change the face of autism instruction in MCPS in the future.  I hope their efforts will extend to advocating for all other children with autism (and with other disabilities) in MCPS to have this access, and make sure that levels or perceived levels of "intellectual ability" should not be anywhere in the criteria to access such technology and teaching strategies.

But MOST parents do not/did not have access or resources to such methodologies, and thus it is close to impossible to prove their child might benefit from them-- as there is no way to get data without giving the access to start with.  If you do not have private financial resources to help you, MCPS currently can not be counted on to give "equal access" and the "burden of proof" is on these families.    

We absolutely must support each other's children as well as our own in this endeavor. 
Sorry for the length of this post--- But these families--- in and not in the project- and this issue are dear to my heart.

By~
Montgomery County Advocate for students with special education needs.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Wootton's Plastic Grass wasn't enough for some football players

...Worst hit was Wootton, where Spinner coached before resigning in January for reasons he and the school would not disclose. The resignation was “not by choice,” he told The Post at the time. 
Six Wootton players have followed Spinner to Avalon, led by four-star recruit Trevon Diggs, brother of Maryland standout Stefon Diggs. Trevon is a rising junior with offers to play football from Florida State, Maryland and Penn State, among other top schools...
 http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/highschools/avalon-footballs-rapid-build-rankles-some-montgomery-county-coaches/2014/08/07/19ac09f2-1da9-11e4-ab7b-696c295ddfd1_story.html

Maryland school district to start monitoring students' social media posts with new software | WJLA.com

Maryland school district to start monitoring students' social media posts with new software | WJLA.com

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Open Meeting Compliance Board Annual Meeting - All Welcome

The Open Meetings Compliance Board will hold its annual meeting at 10:00 a.m. on  August 20, 2014 at the Office of the Attorney General, 200 St. Paul Place, Baltimore, Md.   Before holding the annual meeting, the Board will meet at 9:15 to discuss organizational matters.  The public is invited to both sessions.

If you are interested in attending, please contact Ms. Deborah Spence at OpenGov@oag.state.md.us or 410-576-6327 so that we may make the necessary arrangements.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

WPost: Leggett, Hixson & Luedtke and Campaign Contributions from racetrack and casino affiliated companies

...
3. Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) $8,000
Donors: W.M. Rickman Construction Co., River Sandy Landing
...
8. Del. Sheila E. Hixson (D-Montgomery), chairwoman of Ways & Means Committee $2,750
Donors: Ocean Downs (racetrack), Cambridge Plaza, Rickman Travilah
9. Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery), chairman of Ways and Means subcommittee $2,500
Donors: Ocean Downs (racetrack), W.M. Rickman Construction Company

----
Delegate Luedtke is also a MCPS middle school teacher.
...One recipient, Del. Eric D. Lued­tke (D-Montgomery), was unsure of the legality of a $500 contribution he received last fall from Ocean Downs, the Rickman-controlled company that runs the racetrack where Rickman’s casino opened in January 2011
So Luedtke contacted the Maryland attorney general’s office for advice about whether he could accept the money. He was told that nothing in the 2012 law prohibited him from accepting the track’s contribution, and he decided to keep the money. In May, Luedtke, who chairs a Ways and Means Committee panel with jurisdiction over gaming issues, also received a $2,000 check from Rickman’s construction company. 
Luedtke said he’s not entirely comfortable with forbidding donations by specific industries. “Why just casinos? Why not banks?” he asked. “If we’re concerned that contributions can affect policy, then why not a broader ban?”...

 http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/md-politics/despite-2012-law-casino-cash-finds-its-way-to-candidates-in-maryland/2014/08/04/db88aeaa-17f9-11e4-9e3b-7f2f110c6265_story.html

1/3 of MCPS students say they’ve been offered or sold illegal drugs on school property

About one-third of Montgomery County students say they’ve been offered or sold illegal drugs on school property in the past year, according to results from the 2013 Maryland Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
The survey also asked them about cyberbullying, food and their weight.
While smaller samples of county students have taken the survey before, the 2013 results show for the first time data specific to Montgomery. County students have taken the survey in the past to contribute to statewide results.
A random sample of 12 high schools and 14 middle schoolsin Montgomery County Public Schools participated in the survey that took place in the spring of 2013 and allowed students to anonymously respond.
The state survey is part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, according to a report from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on the 2013 results...
http://www.gazette.net/article/20140806/NEWS/140809544/1007/montgomery-county-student-survey-highlights-drugs-food-bullying&template=gazette

Gazette: Neighbors say no to cell tower at Rockville school

Group wants ban at Julius West Middle School