After-school program violated ethics policy, panel finds

A Montgomery County ethics panel has decided that an after-school fitness program operated by a physical education teacher at Somerset Elementary school violated a district policy that prohibits employees from tutoring their own students for extra pay.

The panel met early this month; its decision was sent to the Board of Education Thursday.

Teacher Richard House operated the Healthy Kids Workout program for at least 15 years before it was shut down in the fall for possible conflict of interest. School system officials became aware of it after the teacher was nominated for a Board of Education award.

The program, which cost about $15 per student per session, was very popular, and parents organized to keep it going.

The panel’s written ruling emphasized that the program was “laudable” and said that the teacher could operate a similar program elsewhere with students from other schools.

According to the policy, though, “employees may not...intentionally use the prestige of their office for their own economic benefit.” In short, they cannot charge their own students for extra teaching or coaching outside of school hours.

The decision cited a 2001 ethics panel review of an after-school music group run by an elementary school music teacher for many of the teacher’s students, as well as a 1988 review of a summer basketball program operated by a high school basketball coach that included rising ninth graders who would be trying out for the coach’s team.

Both were found to violate school policy.

Morris Panner, a Somerset parent who advocated for the Healthy Kids Workout program, said he was disappointed by the panel’s decision.

“This is such a triumph of bureaucratic formalism over something that functioned for so long in this school,” he said.

According to the ruling, the purpose of the ethics policy is “to promote the highest level of ethical conduct on the part of all persons associated with MCPS; to ensure the highest public confidence in the impartiality and independent judgment of Board of Education members and school employees and to provide guidance for MCPS personnel concerning ethics-related matters.”

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.

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