Three Questions Answered

As members of the Board of Education have talked with interested parties about the recent appeal decisions of Mr. Roger Plunkett and Dr. Kim Statham, we have become aware of many misconceptions. Three questions have surfaced: Why didn't the board see the report of the private investigators? How could the board find the memory of a teacher less credible than an administrator? Did the board agree with the recommendation of a hearing officer?

The answers to these questions result from the legal procedures that govern appeals and the board's role as mandated by law. In these appeals, both sides (Superintendent John O'Rourke and the administrators) had an attorney. In this type of appeal, each side presents its case to a hearing officer appointed by the board to take testimony, receive exhibits and report on his view of the evidence. When all of the testimony is finished and exhibits received, the record is closed. The board's job is then to review the record.

Why didn't the board see the report of the private investigators?

Each side was motivated to present its strongest possible case. The record did not contain the report of the private investigator because it was not introduced as evidence by either side of the case. Each side had the ability to introduce it but chose not to do so. One can infer that if the report had been helpful to either side, it would have been introduced in the beginning of the case as evidence. It is important to note that the hearing officer characterized a synopsis of the investigative report as "only the investigators' recapitulation of various statements made to the investigators, the substance of which contains not only hearsay, but in certain cases, multiple hearsay as well." The attorneys did put forth as sworn witnesses several of the same people who had been interviewed by the private investigators. The board reviewed, in detail, all that was presented in the record. The record consisted of more than 3,000 pages of transcript, more than 150 exhibits and more than 300 pages of memoranda from attorneys.

How could the board find the memory of a teacher less credible than the memory of an administrator?

The board's responsibility is to review the record. There were many conflicts throughout the testimony. In some cases, the events occurred more than a year ago, so it was not surprising that people had differing recollections of who said what to whom. In order to resolve those conflicting versions of a given incident, the board looked at whether others corroborated a person's testimony and whether a witness had been consistent in what he or she told various people. The board did not believe or disbelieve witnesses because of their position as a teacher or an administrator. The board studied and analyzed the sworn testimony together with the exhibits and made memory credibility determinations on the basis of that analysis of the record.

Did the board agree with the recommendations of the hearing officer?

The hearing officer made recommendations on five incidents for Dr. Statham. The board agreed with the hearing officer on two and disagreed on three. The hearing officer made recommendations on three instances for Mr. Plunkett. The board agreed with two and disagreed with one. The board thought some testimony, and some discrepancies in testimony, which the hearing officer did not even mention, were significant enough to find differently on some instances. It is ultimately the responsibility of the Board of Education to make factual determinations and reach conclusions as to whether any policies or regulations were violated. The hearing officer's role is to help the board fulfill its obligations, not to assume those obligations. It is not unheard of for a board to disagree with a recommendation from a hearing officer.

Regardless of varying opinion on the recent appeal decisions, it is important to understand the legal process by which the decisions were reached. The Board of Education of Howard County is composed of five independent individuals who are sworn to uphold the laws of this nation, state and county. It acted within the confines of the laws, consulted with legal counsel during all deliberations and rendered decisions based upon the facts presented. Although board members did not always agree along the way, the board was strongly united on the final conclusion in both cases.

The past several months have been a trying time for the school system. The board will continue to work with all constituent groups in an effort to move the school system forward in a productive and positive manner.

Howard County

Board of Education

Courtney Watson, chairman; James P. O'Donnell, vice chairman; Sandra H. French; Patricia S. Gordon; and

Joshua M. Kaufman

Cicada Pesticide Danger

I am writing to alert people to the dangers of secondary poisoning that may occur if they use pesticides to control cicadas. Secondary poisoning occurs when an animal eats the body of another animal that has been poisoned and, in doing so, also ingests the poison.

I am a state and federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator with 14 years' experience caring for ill, injured and orphaned native wildlife. During this past Memorial Day weekend, I received seven animals that died shortly after arriving. The symptoms suggest that the animals (all were insect eaters) died of poisoning.

I recently learned that several stores are promoting the sale of pesticides to kill cicadas. Many of our native birds and mammals are eating the cicadas and are, I believe, becoming victims of secondary poisoning. Each cicada lives for a short time. So why risk harm to wildlife by using poisons? Cicadas are harmless to humans and animals unless a poisoned cicada is eaten by a bird or mammal.

The baby robin in the nest arrived with its legs held out stiffly behind it, its head and neck stretched out and arched over its back, as it gasped for breath. Please don't let fear and impatience about the cicada emergence cause another animal to suffer such an agonizing death. Please do not use pesticides to get rid of the cicadas.

Judith Holzman

All Creatures Great and Small

Wildlife Center

Columbia