On November 15, Kerry Gillespie spoke about “parental choice” at the Anne Arundel County Board of Education public session. Other than eye-rolls, she said she has received no feedback from the board members in attendance.
“The public pleas, phone calls and emails from school parents to Superintendent George Arlotto and the Board of Education have been ridiculed, belittled and admonished for months,” said Gillespie, a mother of four, including a daughter at Magothy River Middle School.
Dana Schallheim, who represents District 5, disagreed with that assessment.
“I take constituent services very seriously,” Schallheim said. “I often spend my nights and weekends talking to parents and teachers, and my family can attest to this. It sometimes gets in the way of family, so I find that comment unwarranted.”
With acrimony spilling into the public square, it’s clear that effective communication between parents and the Anne Arundel County school board has hit an all-time low. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), anxiety among teens is on the rise.
"More children have been hurt by self-harm than COVID," said Severna Park resident Chris Acton, whose son is a senior. “The social restrictions, policy flip-flops and administrative inconsistencies have placed a terrible burden of anxiety on our children."
With homecoming dances postponed, classes disrupted and asymptomatic students quarantined, many parents believe the Anne Arundel County Board of Education is hiding behind propriety and procedures to prevent public discussion.
“The school board picks who speaks,” added Lisa Smith of Severna Park. “They determine the subject matter. They cut people off when they don’t like the direction of the conversation.
“By silencing parent and student voices, they are practicing a form of bullying,” she continued. “Many parents and children are afraid to speak.”
The Board of Education hears testimony from up to 10 speakers (combination of virtual and in-person) per agenda item during a single public comment section in the early portion of the meeting. Speakers are chosen by a randomized, computerized lottery.
Some parents claim they have been blocked on social media.
“We have a right to comment about what’s happening in our schools,” Smith said. “Proper decisions can’t be made when you’re only hearing comments that you agree with. Blocking parents from social media is censorship. I have a child in the system, and I have a right for my voice to be heard.”
In Anne Arundel County, only 9.4% of students 19 years of age and younger have been vaccinated according to www.aacounty.org/coronavirus. According to www.maryland.gov, 268 out of 82,777 total AACPS students have tested positive for COVID as of November 17. The state website reports zero Anne Arundel County student mortalities associated with COVID.
“The lives of our children have been turned upside down,” Gillespie said. “Healthy teenagers are being treated like senior citizens with multiple comorbidities. Our schools are getting into testing, policing and segregating students, while publicly touting ‘unity days’ and inclusion.”
Starting on November 22, a new flurry of COVID testing was introduced for employees and student-athletes through a partnership with Capital Diagnostics.
“Medical privacy for student-athletes is out the window as they are asked to take COVID tests twice-per-week at school, disrupting their normal academic and athletic routines,” Smith said. “This public display of vaccine status intensifies isolation, anxiety and bullying.”
According to the CDC, an uptick in substance abuse, eating disorders and emergency room visits for attempted self-harm is being experienced across the country.
“The relationship between the school board and parents is completely dysfunctional,” Acton summarized. “The lack of transparency on how decisions are made, the confusion about priorities, and the silencing of parent voices are inconsistent with an elected body supposedly established to represent the citizens of their district. This has a direct impact on the physical and mental health of our children.”
Schallheim said she and her fellow board members are doing their best in a tough environment created by the pandemic.
“Every member of this board takes their job seriously, with students as the focus of our decisions,” Schallheim said. “I understand people are unhappy with the restrictions, some of which are mandated by the state, but all we’re trying to do is serve our students.”
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