For parents and staff at Centennial High School, the case of Kimberly Statham and Roger L. Plunkett is far from over.
Last month, the Howard school board reversed a decision by then-Superintendent John O'Rourke to reassign the two high-ranking school system administrators. They had been accused of using their positions to alter the academic record of Statham's daughter, who was a student at Centennial. The two were reinstated as administrators by Interim Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin.
But many parents and teachers protested those decisions during a combative 31/2-hour meeting Monday with school board members and the superintendent.
"The message you are sending . . . is that select persons are not to be criticized or challenged," Jonathan Cooper, the school's PTA president-elect, said to applause at the meeting at Centennial. "This is the greatest crisis our school system can face."
The allegations surfaced in December when an anonymous e-mail, purportedly sent by a Centennial teacher to school officials and the media, accused Statham of using her position as deputy superintendent to alter a failing grade for her daughter, who was attending the Ellicott City high school. The e-mail also alleged that Statham had asked Plunkett to help change her daughter's transcript to show that the teenager had dropped a course rather than withdrawn from it. Withdrawals generally are frowned upon by college admissions officers.
During the meeting Monday, teachers said the board's decision called their credibility into question. Many donned stickers and handed out hot pink fliers declaring, "I support teachers for integrity," in protest of the board's decision.
"If I can be that role model [of integrity] at my salary, I hope our administrators can be that role model at their salaries," said Janet Quirk, a county guidance counselor.
O'Rourke hired a special investigator for $45,000 to examine the allegations. About a month into the probe, the school board decided not to renew O'Rourke's four-year contract. In late February, three days before he resigned as superintendent, O'Rourke announced the demotions of Statham and Plunkett.
The two appealed, and their cases were heard last month by an independent hearing officer hired by the board for about $20,000, board Chairman Courtney Watson said. After compiling more than 1,000 pages of testimony in each case, the officer made recommendations to the board.
But members came to their own conclusions. They found no basis for the three allegations brought against Plunkett, an assistant superintendent, though the hearing officer concluded that one of them was valid. The board also said four of the accusations against Statham, now the county's chief academic officer, were unreasonable. The hearing officer had found that only one was.
"We followed the processes mandated by law," Watson said. "I believe we would be discarding our moral authority if we did not act as we did."
Watson and other board members reiterated that they could not elaborate on the cases because of personnel privacy laws.
Those legal restraints seemed to frustrate parents and teachers further. As the night wore on, some of the attacks turned personal.
Some parents demanded to know if they could appeal the board's decision -- or even oust the members. Several times some parents shouted "Impeach!" and "Recall!" during the meeting. When Watson said she was looking forward to the end of her term in 2006, one parent yelled out, "Why don't you step down now?"
"Ninety percent of the people in this room are not satisfied with what you said tonight," parent Martin Pozoulakis said.
A handful of parents and residents, mostly black, turned out to support the board's decision. Both Statham and Plunkett are black.
"I believe the board has acted responsibly," Charles Howell, president of the Parents Council of Black Students at Centennial, said after the meeting. "There isn't anybody in the community with sufficient information at their disposal to really challenge this in a legitimate way."
During Howell's testimony, several white parents and teachers left the room. Others left later in the evening during a speech by Robert Gordon, secretary of the parents council.
"The issue of race is clearly a question in this particular event," Howell said. "I'm at a loss to explain how so many in the community who have no direct contact with Plunkett and Statham could have such strong negative emotions toward them."
Near the end of the meeting, parents and teachers called on Cousin to help the school move past the controversy that has marred the last half of the academic year.
Cousin is soon expected to name a new principal at Centennial. Jennifer Peduzzi has been acting principal since Lynda Mitic retired after the controversy erupted late last year.
During the meeting, Cousin and his newly appointed chief of administration, Sandra Erickson, also pledged to continue listening to the Centennial staff's concerns.
"Everything we can say right now would just be words," Erickson said. "You have to see our actions. I pledge to act with integrity. Call me on it."