Friday, January 30, 2015

Parents Need To Roll Out a Technology Plan In their School - Starr Forgot To!

Our Students cannot afford to wait for Montgomery County Public School’s leaders to take action in protecting our children’s personal digital privacy. It is up to parents, like you, to develop a plan in their school, reach out to state lawmakers to support stronger student privacy laws and to speak out publicly on this important issue.

With Superintendent Joshua Starr’s reappointment process in the news, I want to provide some updates on the technology in the classroom initiative he is touting as one of his ‘great accomplishments’ during his four-year tenure.  My focus has been about the lack of the initiative’s strategic plan, the lack of measurable goals, and the troubling lack of student privacy protections  in the Google Apps For Education and Chromebook agreements.

Although no answers have been provided by Starr and his team, to date, the State of Maryland and Parents have made some positive inroads where MCPS failed us:  

1.      State lawmakers introduced in 2014 and may do so again in 2015 legislation that protects the personal digital privacy of our students. and
2.      Piney Branch Elementary School (PBES, Takoma Park, MD) has put together a parent/teacher/principal working group to develop safeguards, code of usage, and best practices that we hope will be a model for other schools in the district to adapt. (I am part of this group)
If you desire to get a working group started in your school, please start meeting with your Principal.  

While we hired Joshua Starr to protect our students, he not only FAILED to protect our children’s personal information, but invited (and paid) companies to freely take and use any personal information they find on our children.

We, at PBES are meeting with MCPS’s CTO, Sherwin Collette in February and asking the following questions (which Starr has refused to answer, Collette has failed to address, to date, and MCPS’ Google agreements fail to incorporate):
1.      When will MCPS’ agreements with third party vendors such as Google :
a.       Require that student data collected may not be used for non-educational purposes..
b.      Require that school vendors delete personally identifiable information about students and their families upon request from parents or legal guardians
c.       Require that vendors be fully transparent about their digital collection practices, privacy policies and practices
d.      Require that third party vendors be held legally and financially responsible in the event of a data breach
e.       Require minimum security controls that must be met
f.       Permit a security audit by MCPS
g.      Detail what specific information can and cannot be collected (e.g., metadata, forms, logs, cooking, tracking pixels, etc…)
h.      Define the specific purposes for which the vendor may use student information and bind the provider to only those approved uses
i.        Specify with whom the vendor may share student information
j.        Include data archival and destruction requirements to ensure metadata is no longer residing on the vendor’s systems after the contract expires
k.      Define what disclosure avoidance procedures must be performed to de-identify student information before the vendor may retain it, share it, use it
l.        A parent portal to obtain access to the data collected by provider
m.    A process of modifying the terms of the agreement if new laws are enacted during the term of the agreement.
n.      Disposition of student information by vendor at the end of the agreement
o.      Vendor agrees to do X, if in violation of a law provision (damages).
2.      Why did MCPS enter into agreements with Google that failed to include a strong privacy policy that prohibits it from creating user profiles about students?
3.      Why is our students’ personal digital data governed by Google’s weak Consumer Privacy Policy that allows for data mining and behavioral advertising?
4.      Does MCPS conduct an inventory of the online educational services currently being used within our school/district? If so, does MCPS evaluate which services are most effective and is that information communicated to parents?
5.      Does MCPS have policies and procedures to evaluate and approve proposed online educational services?  How does this apply to teachers/staff that click ‘I agree’ to software used in the classroom?  Does MCPS train the teachers/staff to meet their standard internal controls when entering into an agreement with a website vendor?
6.      What are MCPS’ measurable Chromebook success goals in three years? Five years?

Following my meeting with Collette, I will post any answers we receive.  Please read on to get involved in the solution at your school.

Information you can take to your Principal and
Other Concerned Parents that desire to take action within their schools:

According to estimates provided by the Software and Information Industry Association, a U.S.-based software and information trade association, the market for education software for pre-K through 12thgrade students was approximately $8 billion in the 2011-12 school year, up $500 million from only two years prior. 

Why the growth?

If you think the companies are all interested in the education of our students…I have a bridge to sell you. It is about access and collection of very valuable data that they will monetize over the life of that child (even if they do not have Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter, etc…).
With substantial rise in schools’ use of online educational technology products that monitor students’ progress and learning habits through the collection of data by third-party cloud computing service providers, it is critical that the School District protect the collection, misappropriation or misuse of sensitive personal information.
The School District will often state that all their third party educational technology vendors abide by two Federal Laws that protect the personal privacy of our children, FERPA and COPPA….but they conveniently leave out that FERPA is four decades old and DOES NOT HOLD  THIRD PARTY VENDORS (only to the school district) legally accountable and COPPA only protects children under 13 years of age.

Who has tackled this issue?

California recently  enacted  Senate Bill 1177/SOPIPA which helps better protect the personal digital privacy of students. California’s Senate Bill 1177 was mentioned by President Obama during his historic speech at the FTC earlier this year as the model for his forthcoming Student Digital Privacy Act proposal.   What kind of personal data do some school vendors collect about our children?
Schools have always kept records on students but today third party vendors are being entrusted to store voluminous amounts of data in the cloud. Information such as: individual progress, grades, discipline  history, test scores, attendance records, behavioral issues, special education development, demographic data, medical history, academic performance may be collected and utilized by vendors for non-educational purposes.
Other data points such as race, religion, sexual orientation, etc… may also be inferred by your children’s school digital activity and this information may be tagged to your children forever and utilized in ways never before imagined.

Why is this an issue?

This information in the wrong hand will harm your child for his/her entire life.  It may be:
a.       leaked, exposed by hackers, to the world,
b.      sold to advertisers by the private companies hired by the schools themselves,
c.       sold to health insurance companies to determine coverage and premiums,
d.      sold to potential employers,
e.       sold to potential colleges or graduate school admission offices

Is MCPS alone in not protecting your child’s personal and private information?

No.  In a December 2013 report entitled Privacy and Cloud Computing in Public Schools, Fordham Law School’s Center on Law and Information Privacy surveyed twenty school districts across the country and uncovered the following:

·         95% of the school districts surveyed rely on cloud computing for multiple functions, including monitoring student performance, providing support for classroom activities, data hosting and student guidance.
·         Only 25% of the school districts inform parents of their use of cloud services.
·         20% of school districts do not have policies governing the use of their online services.
·         Only 25% of the contracts between the school districts and cloud service providers give schools the right to audit and inspect the service provider’s practices with respect to the student data collected.
·         Fewer than 7% of the contracts between the school districts and cloud service providers restrict the sale or marketing of student information by vendors.
·         Only one contract required the cloud service provider to notify the school district in the event of a data security breach.

The company that MCPS chose to entrust our children’s personal information:  Google was caught last year scanning its student Google Apps For Education emails for advertising purposes.  After California’s ground breaking student privacy law was recently enacted, Google refused to clafiry whether it was creating student user profiles through its Google Apps For Education or Chromebook platforms.  Google initially refused to sign the weak industry created Student Privacy Pledge and only joined the initiative after President Obama threatened to call the company out for its troubling student privacy practices. 

While the Student Privacy Pledge is a positive development, it was drafted by 2 interest groups who are funded by some educational technology vendors who want to utilize our children’s personal student data for profit.  The Pledge is voluntary and appears to have been created to help stave off stricter regulations that would better protect our students from companies that may harm the personal privacy and safety of our children for corporate profit.    

MCPS’ has entrusted our children’s most personal information to Google.  A company that has been caught intentionally misrepresenting its privacy practices multiple times.  In 2012, Google paid a $22.5 million dollar record FTC fine for misleading users about its privacy practices regarding the scandal known as the Apple “Safari Hack”.  In 2013, Google paid more than $17 million dollars in fines to multiple states for the same troubling privacy violations and another $7 million dollars in fines for collecting private personal and business data during its Street View Project.   

Last year, Montgomery County’s House of Delegates member Ann Kaiser introduced student data privacy protection legislation in Maryland and Google led the charge to kill the bill.  According to Politico, Google has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists across the country to ensure that stronger privacy legislation to protect our children and consumers is not enacted.   

Now that the MCPS Board is weighing whether Starr will continue as Superintendent will the Board also now perform the due diligence needed to ensure that its students’ personal privacy is properly protected by its technology provider? 

Thank you for making a difference in your school by taking action on this important issue.

2013: Starr and BOE Warned About Handling of Sexual Abuse of Students

Letter #1 dated October 8, 2013

Dear Dr. Starr and Members of the Board of Education,

I am a Montgomery county resident and the mother of ------ Montgomery county public
school students. I am reaching out to you to open a discussion regarding the way in which the county addresses the sexual abuse of its students and children.

This weekend, the media documented yet another arrest of an MCPS staff member for allegedly sexually abusing a student.

A brief review I conducted this morning of media reports (from 2012 and 2013) quickly revealed eight criminal cases that led to charges being pressed against MCPS staff:

1. October 2013 - Richard Shemer, teacher Albert Einstein High School
  •  one felony charge of sex abuse of a minor

2. August 2013 – Lawrence Joynes, teacher at New Hampshire Estates elementary school.
  • Arrested from sexually abusing 15 students. Charged with 14 counts of sex abuse of a minor, one count of sex offense in the third degree, child abuse and second-degree rape.
3. June 2013 – Benjamin Cano, teacher at Mario Loiederman middle school.

  • Arrested for the sexual abuse of 3 girls. Charged with three counts of sexual abuse of a minor and three counts of committing a 3rd degree sex offense.

4. April 2013 – Timothy Krupica, teacher at Meadow Hall elementary school.
  • Arrested on multiple charges for the sexual abuse of 4 girls. Charged with two counts of sexual abuse of a minor and faces several other sexual offense charges
5. October 2012 – Cuyler Cornell, teacher at Neelsville middle school.
  • Arrested for sexually abusing 1 boy. Charged with two counts of committing a third degree sex offense and one count of sexual abuse of a minor
6. September 2012 – Daniel Picca, teacher – numerous schools in MCPS.
  • Numerous children involved. The state board upheld his firing. In the 1990’s, allegations also resulted in an investigation of Picca by the county’s Child Protective Services Division, which found that his actions “indicated child abuse.” That finding, though contested by Picca, was upheld twice by another state administrative law judge. Picca remained in the classroom, according to the reports. For 17 years, he was warned and reprimanded by Montgomery County Public Schools over his “inappropriate” conduct with male students.
7. May 2012 – Aaron Lamere, teacher at Northwood high school.
  • Charged with three counts of possession of child pornography, Four counts ofsexual solicitation of a minor, Four counts of committing a third degree sex offense, Three counts of sexual abuse of a minor, One count of committing a fourth degree sex offense, Two counts of indecent exposure.

8. February 2012 - Scott Spear, coach at Richard Montgomery High School
  • a fourth degree sex offense over allegations he twice had sex off campus with a student who was on the track team

This was not a comprehensive review and obviously does not include criminal complaints that did not lead to charges being pressed, nor does it included cases brought to the attention of Child Protective Services as their records are not open to the public.

Over the past year and a half, I have been trying to gather information to understand clearly what the school system and county are doing to prevent abuse (via the education of staff, parents and children) as well as to address concerns, allegations and reports of child abuse, specifically child sexual abuse. I have been unable to find information regarding what, if anything, MCPS is doing to help engage parents in either helping prevent abuse from occurring in the first place or in reporting abuse when they have suspicions or knowledge it has occurred. I am bewildered by why a lengthy search on MCPS website, meetings with principal and vice principal of my children’s school, multiple emails, phone calls (to numerous county departments and agencies)cannot provide me with anything other than superficial information on this matter.

In May of 2013, County Executive Isiah Leggett kicked off a child abuse prevention campaign called The Power of One in which he stated, “This campaign emphasizes that one person can save a life, making a choice to make a difference, whether it is through reporting suspected abuse or caring for an at-risk child. We all must do our part to help children in our community.”

As a resident of the county, as a parent of children in the county school system and also as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (MD & VA) & Certified Sex Offender Treatment Provider (VA) with 20 years of experience in working on the issue of child abuse, I would like to join in the Power of One campaign and am asking for your support, help, cooperation and guidance in making our county and our schools a safe place for our children and families.

I would like to know if the following is in place in the schools and if it is not, I would like to be part of implementing the following:

  • A clear and easy to access place within MCPS with information regarding child abuse.This would include information regarding what type of screening of employees,volunteers and programs is being done. It would include red flags / signs and symptoms of abuse. It would include links and information regarding how to report said concerns to the schools, police and CPS. It would include how each of those agencies respond to concerns, allegations and reports.
  • A clear and easy to access site within MCPS with the school and county policies regarding such things as: What are the guidelines / rules / regulations for electronic communication / engagement between staff and students? On a county level, what are the regulations for documenting concerning behaviors of staff? What is the protocol /regulation for how departments / agencies share concerns / findings / convictions (i.e. between schools, administration, police and CPS)? Have the loopholes that allowed part-time staff not be held to the same standards as full time staff been closed?
  • Education for parents regarding child sexual abuse.
  • Education and prevention for children in our schools.

I would welcome the opportunity to meet with any of you to discuss this complex and critically important issue facing the county. Please contact me at your earliest convenience. I look forward to hearing from you and thank you in advance for your time and consideration of this matter. I may be reached either XXXXXXXXX


Jennifer Alvaro

NYC's Diane Ravitch calls Joshua Starr a Hero Superintendent, Credits Him with Actions that were actually Jerry Weast's

New York City's Diane Ravitch has written about Joshua Starr's failure to gain a majority of supporters on the Board of Education. Ms. Ravitch describes herself as a "historian of education."

Ms. Ravitch's readers are upset with this news because Ms. Ravitch has previously labeled Joshua Starr a "hero superintendent."

However, when Ms. Ravitch assigned Joshua Starr the title of "hero" she cited actions taken by the previous Superintendent, Jerry Weast!

Apparently the MCPS Public Information Office did not contact Ms. Ravitch to get her to correct her misinformation.

George Leventhal to Discuss Starr at Noon Today on 88.5 FM

The Politics Hour – January 30, 2015

...Uncertainty clouds the future for the chief of one of Maryland’s treasured public school systems... 
12 p.m – 1 p.m. (ET), Friday

Twitter -  @kojoshow

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Whitman HS: Administrators have called students for a meeting seventh period tomorrow to discuss the [Starr's contract] issue.

...The first indication of Starr’s future will come in early February, when he will have to decide whether to submit a proposal for contract renewal. Administrators have called students for a meeting seventh period tomorrow to discuss the issue.

Sentinel Cartoon

NBC4: What's the Future of MCPS Superintendent Starr?

Twinbrook Citizens Association: Stop Fast-Tracking the Bus Depot

Hello Councilmembers Rice, Elrich, and Navarro,

I am writing on behalf of the Twinbrook Citizens Association to express our concerns with the plan to put a 400 bus depot at the Mark Twain Elementary School / Blair Ewing site on Avery Road.  We have only recently learned about this plan and we are very concerned that 1) a site that Rockville taxpayers and Project Open Space has funded will be destroyed, that 2) an entire functional school building will be destroyed even as Rockville is being pushed to add thousands of residents on Rockville Pike in the name of Smart Growth,that 3) a road that is already at a crawl in rush hour, Norbeck aka First Street, will be impacted by 400 school buses going in and out of the site several times a day in rush hour, that 4) business at Rockville's Redgate Golf Course, also funded with Open Space money as well as supported by Rockville taxpayer dollars, will be affected,and that 5) the site abuts Rock Creek Park, more importantly, that the site SLOPES into Rock Creek park, so that oil and waste runoff from the 400 bus parking lot may funnel into the creek.

This seems be another poorly planned MCPS boondoggle.  Even as the County cries poor in Annapolis, millions of dollars are being wasted and a school building that will be needed in the future is bulldozed.  The fact that nearby communities were not informed (including the Aspen Hill community which will receive the programs being transferred out of the Blair Ewing center) is problematic.  The Mayor and Council of Rockville so far have said that they were NOT notified that the Mark Twain site was to be "repossessed" by the County.  Questions have been raised as to WHY they were not notified and WHY Program Open Space regulations are being ignored.

Here in Rockville, we were told during our own Redgate go-round, by our then-State Senator Jennie Forehand, that decommissioning a park funded with Program Open Space funds would cause Annapolis to look with caution at "wasting" any future Open Space funds in Rockville. 

I think you should take that to heart, as well as consider the implications of putting what is essentially an industrial facility next to a nationally significant piece of parkland and a waterway that traverses historic areas of the District of Columbia.  I would hope that you are as interested in preserving parkland DOWNCOUNTY as you are in preserving parkland upcounty, as with Ten Mile Creek.

Today, as the Board of Education considers terminating Dr. Starr's contract, the question you should be asking yourself is - why is the school system so dysfunctional, that literally millions of dollars of taxpayer money is being squandered on projects of this type?  When we, the taxpayers, see this kind of hidden and backdoor deal being pushed through, and we are told, yet again, at the 11th hour, that it is a "done deal", we know there is something badly wrong.

Please, in your considerations, stop fast-tracking the bus depot.  The whole project needs to be reconsidered before it becomes an embarrassment to Montgomery County.


Christina Y. Ginsberg
Treasurer, Twinbrook Citizens Association
Richard A. Gottfried
President, Twinbrook Citizens Association

County Committee Orders Two Studies for MCPS Alternative Education Program

Opponents of a Montgomery County Public Schools’ plan to move the county’s Alternative Education Program from the Blair G. Ewing Center to the English Manor School property off Bestor Drive won a small victory Thursday afternoon.

 The Montgomery County Council’s Education Committee approved a plan Thursday that has the county’s school system looking at both the Blair site and English Manor building for the program that currently includes 138 students. The council committee agreed to allow the school system to spend $1.5 million for two feasibility studies- one that looks at renovating to Ewing site off Avery Road and another that allows the school system to check out if the English Manor property or another school system-owned site would work for the programming...

ABC7: Residents battle MCPS over controversial bus depot plan

ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) – Resistance is growing against a plan to build a new bus depot for hundreds of school buses in Montgomery County. The problem, some say, is that construction crews will have to demolish a functioning school and playground to make way for the new depot.

“This doesn’t make sense from any angle whatsoever,” opponent Jamison Adcock remarked. “Day by day, more and more people are finding out about this. The county council and the county executive, the Board of Education and the superintendent of schools all need to understand how angry they are about this.”

As it stands, Montgomery County Public Schools would vacate its Derwood bus depot by January 2017, moving roughly 370 busses to the Blair G. Ewing Center along Avery Road in Rockville. In turn, all 155 Blair Ewing students would relocate to the former English Manor Elementary School in Aspen Hill, which opponents say is older, smaller and in serious need of repair.

“Demolishing a perfectly good 85,000-square-foot building makes absolutely no sense,” Adcock added. “This site is less than half the size of the current bus depot. You can’t fit 10 pounds of sugar in a 5-pound bag and that’s what the school system is trying to do.”

Others argue fuel tanks could pose environmental concerns to nearby Rock Creek. Increased traffic from hundreds of busses and countless staff vehicles is another serious concern.

@Marc_Elrich to @MCPS: for a myriad of reasons I don't buy what you are saying.

Quote from today's Montgomery County Council Education Committee meeting on the demolition of the Ewing School Center building.  

Starr says claim that MCPS lets maintenance slide is "baseless"

Sorry Superintendent Starr, parents, guardians and students know better.  Listen to the public that comes before the Board of Education every year.  Diverting millions of dollars of Capital funds to salaries and technology takes its toll on building maintenance.  

Today: Artificial Turf at the County Council

There are two meetings on Thursday January 29, 2015, in the Council Building. First is at 2:00 PM followed by next meeting.

T&E/ED 2:00 PM - 7floor CHR Jan 29 • Resolution to support use of plant-derived materials for infill in artificial turf playing fields (McGuire/Levchenko)

ED 3:00 PM – 3Floor CCR Jan 29   • Supplemental appropriation to MCPS’ FY15 Capital Budget and Amendment to the FY15-20 Capital Improvements Program -$1.3 million for Winston Churchill High School artificial turf (McGuire)   • CIP amendment - change of scope for Blair G. Ewing Center Project (McGuire)   • Review of MCPS Monthly Financial Report and FY15 Savings Plan (McGuire)

Sheldon Fishman

School uses MCPS Curriculum, Teachers get Fired

WASHINGTON (WJLA) – Parents are furious over what they’re calling a sudden surge in teachers resigning or being fired from Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science (MS)²—allegedly for teaching black history...

... “The school administration does not want the social studies teachers to teach African-American history,” said parent Shannon Settle. “We are on the campus of an HBCU [Historically Black Colleges and Universities]. We need to know our culture; the school is 90-percent African American.”...

 ...One parent said Principal Blackmon had adopted Montgomery County Public Schools’ curriculum and did not want teachers talking about things like Kwanzaa and the late Marion Barry...

PG School board unanimously votes to ban credit cards

UPPER MARLBORO – The Prince George’s County Board of Education unanimously voted to include a provision in its policy banning board members from having county-issued credit cards following a routine legislative update Thursday evening.
The decision came after the board voted to accept committee positions regarding bills proposed in the General Assembly by members of the Prince George’s County House Delegation, including a bill proposed by Delegate Alonzo Washington (D-22) that would have banned credit cards.
In October, The Sentinel reported board members spent thousands on local meals and a retreat at a hotel in National Harbor. According to credit card receipts and expense reports, the board’s vice chair, Carolyn Boston, and school board member Verjeana Jacobs used their credit cards for the most meals of any board members between January 2013 and May 2014. Boston purchased 114 meals totaling more than $5,500 and Jacobs purchased 87 meals totaling more than $6,200. The retreat cost taxpayers more than $5,000 plus additional costs for room service and overnight valet parking...

Franchot says procurement process is broken and needs fixing

At the Board of Public Works, Comptroller Peter Franchot has frequently complained about Maryland’s contracting process. At his swearing-in Monday, he made fixing the procurement process a priority he and Gov. Larry Hogan can accomplish without new legislation.

Hogan will chair his first Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday flanked by Franchot and State Treasurer Nancy Kopp.

Here is an excerpt from Franchot’s speech.

By Peter Franchot

We must make drastic improvements to the manner in which we obtain goods and services as a state. This cuts to the heart of what I do as your independent fiscal watchdog – ensuring that we’re getting the best possible deal for your hard-earned tax dollars.

As Comptroller, I’ve voted on approximately 15,000 contracts worth $80 billion on the Board of Public Works. And I can tell you – our procurement process is broken.

- See more at:

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

My Two Cents: Starr Wars

by Joseph Hawkins

It looks like the Montgomery County Board of Education will not sign Joshua Starr to another four-year term as superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools.

Franchot: MCPS officials there have an attitude of “icy indifference to school maintenance.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) told public school officials on Wednesday that they should maintain the facilities they already have and not expect a rush of state funds to replace aging structures.
“Look, we’re sitting in a building right now that was built in 1772,” said Hogan while meeting in an ornately decorated reception room in the Maryland State House. “It seems to be working pretty well for us, and it’s very well maintained. We’re not building a new statehouse every 15 or 20 years.”
Hogan’s comments came at the annual “beg-a-thon,” when public school officials are given 10 minutes to explain to the Maryland Board of Public Works — a three-member board that approves most major state expenditures — why their construction projects deserve state funding...

Question is whether [Starr] will decide to formally request a new contract between now and Sunday

...As school board members met in closed session today on Starr’s future, several sources said the superintendent has been marshaling supporters to press the case for giving him four more years. Starr is said to have told those close to him that he wants to continue as the superintendent of the Montgomery County schools.
The question is whether he will decide to formally request a new contract between now and Sunday – a move that would set off a month-long debate by the board, which, under law, would have to decide his fate by March 1.

WPost: ...board took no official action Wednesday on Starr’s future...

Amid reports that Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr lacks the support he needs on the county school board to gain reappointment, the board took no official action Wednesday on Starr’s future with Maryland’s largest school district.
Board members met privately for two hours in an executive session that Starr attended Wednesday. Afterward, Board President Patricia O’Neill declined to comment on the discussion, citing confidentiality laws regarding personnel matters.
O’Neill said Starr, who is nearing the end of his first term, has not officially notified the board about whether he is seeking a new four-year contract to lead the 154,000-student district. He has until Sunday to do so.
“It’s part of a process, and we have not crossed the February 1 threshold and sometime after we do we’ll make an announcement and move forward,” O’Neill said...
 ...No additional executive sessions are scheduled before Sunday, suggesting that the next move falls to Starr, who faces the possibility of asking to return but lacking the votes...

Channel 8 News Talk: Joshua Starr Out at MCPS?

Starr Blocks Parents' Coalition Twitter Account

Up until yesterday, the Parents' Coalition Twitter account was able to follow Superintendent Joshua Starr and read his Tweets. 

Today the Parents' Coalition Twitter account has been blocked.

Maryland school leaders flocked to Annapolis for a “beg-a-thon” before the governor today. Missing: Montgomery Superintendent Joshua Starr.

Council to Demolish 600 Seat School without Review of Facts

Ewing School
On Thursday, January 29, 2015, the Montgomery County Council's Education committee will vote on whether or not to rob the Ewing School Center building of it's renovation funding. The Ewing School building has the capacity to hold up to 600 MCPS students.  If the building loses it's renovation funding the building will deteriorate and be demolished. Once demolished, those 600 seats will be lost to MCPS students forever.

Here is an open letter to the Montgomery County Council in response to the Memorandum from Council staff on this issueCouncilmembers will use the staff Memorandum to cast their votes.  Shouldn't Councilmembers have all of the facts before they decide to demolish a usable, paid for, 600 seat public school building?


January 28, 2015

Esteemed Council Members,

I am providing this email to refute much of what [County Council Staff member] Ms. McGuire has provided within her recommendation to the County Council regarding the relocation of the AEP [Alternate Education Program] program to the former English Manor School.

Here are a couple of links for reference:

The COMPLETED Ewing Center Renovations feasibility study (see Option #3) -

Please take these items into account during your work session. At minimum, please ask for concrete proof for what she states.

1) MCPS Attendees for the [January 29, 2015, Education Committee] work session. Only representatives from the Facilities Dept are attending. While they may have some ideas regarding structural issues, they are not the ones who have designed the AEP program and cannot reliably state that their construction plans for English Manor will truly serve the program better. MCPS Administration staff presence is vital for this session.

2) There are no developed construction plans for English Manor, this vote is really around defunding the Ewing School Center. No feasibility studies have been conducted, so any discussion of how much an English Manor renovation would cost is purely speculation. The memo states (on page circled 14) "With the revised AEP, if the architects were to compare the current facility with English Manor, the study would show that English Manor is better suited to support the AEP and would be more cost effective." This is speculation. No concrete documentation has been provided to support this statement.

The memo states that "the approved $16.6 million should be sufficient to make the systematic renovations to English Manor..." "Should be sufficient" is not enough. These funds are proposed for a relatively small number of students, while a much larger number are being put in portable classrooms. In this fiscal climate, "should be sufficient" is irresponsible and should not be allowed.

She repeats Superintendent Starr's assertion that if additional funds are needed, they will be requested in the next CIP. MCPS cannot support their assertions that $16.6 million will be enough for an English Manor renovation as they have not completed any feasibility studies.

3) The proposed approval of funds for an English Manor renovation is for a building that MCPS does not currently own. Ms. McGuire references state law and county regulations in regards to transferring the property back to MCPS, but she does not provide any specific citations. These laws cannot be considered until citations are provided to prove their existence. To the contrary, COMCOR clearly states at section 11B.45.02.03 that the County Executive must activate the schools reuse and must include the community's input.   Also in COMCOR 11B.45.02.04, the Planning Board also must be involved before any action is taken. None of this is included in her memo.

4) No site selection process. Ms. McGuire claims that MCPS looked at other sites for the programs, but a site selection process was NOT conducted. Based on Board Meeting minutes, there does not seem to be any discussion amongst the Board of Education regarding any alternative sites. She needs to provide documentation showing that these other locations were considered as well as what concrete evidence directed them to English Manor (other than the perceived convenience of moving a Bus Depot to the current Ewing location).

5) Ms. McGuire has not included the second Resolution from the Board of Education.  This Resolution was a request to transfer $100,000 of the approved Ewing renovation money to the bus depot Feasibility Study. This needs to be included as those funds are part of what was approved for the Ewing renovations.
Resolved, That the Board of Education requests an amendment to the adopted Fiscal Years     2015–2020 Capital Improvements Program to transfer $100,000 from the approved Blair G. Ewing Center Improvements project to the Facility Planning project to conduct a feasibility study for the redevelopment of the current Blair G. Ewing Center site for the Shady Grove Transportation Depot; and be it further

So in essence, the Council cannot vote on moving $16.6 million to English Manor as $100,000 of that total is being requested to move to the bus depot.

6) The memo is wrongly comparing the potential solutions of English Manor with the EXISTING structure of the Ewing Center. This document needs to compare these solutions with those presented in the completed Ewing renovation feasibility study (link provided above). That study solves all of issues that this memo asserts can only be solved by English Manor. Here are some examples -
  •  A) The memo states that in the current Blair Ewing facility (circled page 15), "the specialty classrooms (Le. art, music, science, drama, and PEl are located in different parts of the facility, which would create more interaction between middle and high school students than desired." Page 41 of the Ewing renovation feasibility study shows that option #3 puts all of these classrooms in the same location, thus eliminating the issue being cited.
  • B) The memo states that (on circled page 14) "In addition, due to the current building layout and multi-levels [of the Ewing Center], it would be difficult to create a clear circulation path or improved supervision .." yet, the plan for English Manor is to locate the students on multiple levels as well. The completed feasibility study for the Ewing renovation states (page 44) "The corridors are able to widen create locker commons. These moves remove the institutional feel of the current building and provide students with 21st Century Learning Environments on par with their home school."
  • C) From a footprint standpoint, this memo states twice that the facility size of English Manor is much smaller than what is required of the AEP program.On circled page 14, "The current Blair Ewing site is approximately 22.5 acres compared to English Manor which is approximately 8.25 acres. The Blair Ewing facility is over 85,000 GSF compared to English Manor which is approximately 50,000 GSF. Based on the student population and program needs for the revised alternative education programs (AEP), approximately 70,000-75,000 GSF is required to support the programs." Also on circled page 15, "Although the current English Manor facility was a former elementary school and the square footage is smaller than what is required for the AEP, the proposed addition would allow MCPS to provide the specialty and career technology education (CTE) classrooms needed to support the program." Considering that the site acreage is significantly smaller than the Ewing property, how is there space to add enough square footage as the memo states is needed? Again, no feasibility study so any statements around English Manor are speculation.
  • D) The memo states (on circled page 15) that each Ewing Center classroom has their own bathrooms. Staff would like these removed. Page 47 of the Ewing renovation feasibility study shows that individual bathrooms have been removed as requested.
6) Ms. McGuire mentions nine testimonials, but does not include them in her memo. Three of the four who testified in support of the plan were MCPS employees under Mr. Starr, and not members of the public. Second, a number of people submitted written testimony against the plan, and this should have been counted as well.
A large number of questions have been raised by the community and virtually none of these have been answered or even addressed in any forum. Hundreds of separate communications, including phone calls, emails and testimony have poured in to the BOE and the County Council.
    1 - No responses have come.
    2 - The 'recommendation' doesn't even acknowledge the numerous questions raised, completely ignoring the overwhelming rejection of this plan by the public.
In reality, the response from the public was overwhelmingly negative and not balanced as the document suggests.

7) No community involvement before the School Board Vote. The memo states (on circled page 15) "The addition would provide a new building elevation to the neighborhood. For all school design projects that MCPS conducts, if the feasibility study is approved, the adjacent neighbors and neighborhood associations would be invited to participate in the feasibility study and subsequent schematic design process to share their concerns and input into the design of the project." Involving the community after the fact, is the equivalent of asking forgiveness rather than permission. That is too little too late for the community.
"Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" (Declaration of Independence). Despite efforts by the BOE to paint another picture, the public is almost uniformly opposed to this plan. In this case, there is no way that it should go forward.

I implore you to push for facts and not the fiction included in that memo. The residents in and around Aspen Hill are vehemently opposed to this plan and you owe it to us to be as thorough as possible when making your decision.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
-David K. Rowden