In the auditorium of the new Bladensburg High School, an impassioned but still murky dispute occurred last week at a meeting of the county PTA.
The three-hour gathering of about 40 to 50 parents and other activists Oct. 26 got off to a low-key start. School board member Judy Mickens-Murray and board Chairman Beatrice P. Tignor, both of Upper Marlboro, spoke to delegates of the Council of Prince George's County PTAs about an initiative to recruit and train five parent volunteers per school to help in classrooms.
The PTA group delved into budget and organizational matters. Then tempers flared, further revealing the public split between the council's new president, Darren Brown, and its first vice president, Walter Searcy.
Some delegates wanted to know why the PTA group had made headlines in recent weeks for internal controversy. The Post has reported that a group of PTA executive board members, including Searcy, have met to discuss ousting Brown. He has come under scrutiny for his role in the ordering and distribution of uniforms for students at Charles H. Flowers High School in Springdale.
A company Brown said was led by his brother, Bythwood Uniforms & Sports Group, was also involved in the school uniform start-up. Much about the episode remains unclear. But by all accounts, the process was plagued by glitches, misunderstandings and a dispute over the handling of money and payments to a vendor. As a result, the uniform policy was delayed for several weeks. Brown resigned a separate position as head of the Flowers PTSA in September, but he has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the uniform flap and has said he will keep the county PTA position he won in an election in May.
At last week's meeting, after delegates started raising questions, someone alluded to cats and dogs. Searcy popped up. "I'm the dog in this fight," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and play games. I am a proponent of the public school system. We have a member who has had allegations made against him, and they are serious allegations."
Searcy was apparently referring to Brown. But he did not elaborate.
A few minutes later, Brown said foes were spreading false information about him, and he accused his detractors of lacking the "decency" to confront him directly. "Where is the justice in that?" he asked. "It just bothers me. If people would just come to me and ask me." He said critics would "not even give me a chance" to respond.
The matter could come to a head this month in the PTA executive board.
Meanwhile, the county PTA Web site, which had lapsed, has now resumed at a different address: www.pgpta.org.
Live From Upper Marlboro
On Oct. 27, the Board of Education meeting in Upper Marlboro was televised live for the first time. Comcast cable subscribers could tune in to the evening proceedings on Channel 96. Plans call for live coverage to continue for the rest of the school year. Usually, the board meets at 7:05 p.m. on two Thursdays a month (though not this month). Meetings are expected to be televised a second time, on Friday afternoons at 2 p.m. Schedules for Channel 96 are posted on the school system Web site at www.pgcps.org. The next meeting will take place at 7:05 p.m. on Nov. 17.
School officials hailed the technological milestone, which could help the system connect with parents who are interested in educational affairs but unable to drive on a weeknight to school headquarters. It could also help generate interest in the school system as the board searches for a new chief executive and as the county prepares to resume board elections a year from now.
The Banner Is Back
For now, the school system is still urging students to "Read to Lead." A few weeks ago, The Post reported that a banner with that motto, which had been favored by former schools chief Andre J. Hornsby, had been removed from the school board meeting room.
Spokeswoman Kelly Alexander has since explained the banner's disappearance -- and reappearance. She said it was used for events at FedEx Field and at the University of Maryland and then returned to Upper Marlboro.
But Alexander added that the board room's look might be updated after a new schools chief is picked -- "to promote [the chief's] individual vision," she said.