Frustrated parents ventilate Group says school board gave them 'brush-off'

July 09, 1992|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

About 40 parents gathered in a windowless room Tuesday night to vent their frustration over being "brushed off" and "shunted aside" by county school officials.

The meeting, held at the Crofton Library, initially was called to discuss how to remove a fourth-grade teacher, recently charged with the assault and battery of three children, from the classroom.

But many parents, whose children attend Millersville Elementary School, were as upset by the lack of action by the school's principal and subsequent treatment by other school officials as they were about the abuse itself.

"They just don't think they are accountable to us," said one angry parent who thought school officials had ignored parents complaints for months.

Several parents, who vowed not to back off the issue, said if the teacher -- Margaret M. Snyder, 57, of Annapolis -- is not removed from the classroom by September, they will picket outside the school and refuse to let their children enter.

"We'll get the media out. Let them try to ignore that," one parent said.

Ms. Snyder, a veteran teacher at the school, was charged July 6 with three counts of assault and battery in connection with incidents that allegedly took place in her classroom March 23 and June 5. According to charging documents, the children were scratched or fingernail marks were made on their arms, stomachs or chests as the teacher moved them bodily either into line or into chairs.

Both Ms. Snyder and Millersville Principal Henry Shubert declined to comment on the case.

PTA president Steve Segraves said last week he delivered a formal complaint to board member Maureen Carr-York, who represents the area, in the hope she would expedite an investigation into complaints against the teacher and subsequent complaints that the principal failed to take action. A similar complaint was delivered to School Superintendent C. Berry Carter on Monday.

According to state law and school board regulation, professional staff members must report any allegations of suspected child abuse or neglect by employees to the Department of Social Services, Mr. Segraves said.

"That clearly wasn't done," he said.

Mr. Segraves said he received a message on his answering machine from Ms. Carr-York last week asking parents to have faith in the system and to leave the matter in the hands of school officials. Ms. Carr-York was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

But parents said they have lost faith and believe they must

actively pursue the matter or nothing will be done. In the past week, many have written letters to board members, the superintendent and other school officials. Others suggested the PTA should go directly to the Department of Social Services to lodge complaints.

"I have learned you don't sit and wait and let the system work," said one parent. "Because nothing happens."

Problems at Millersville, which one parent described as "torturous," began last year before school even started. Some parents said they requested that their children not be assigned to Ms. Snyder's class because of her reputation of abusive behavior and incompetence as a teacher.

Some parents were accommodated, others were not, Mr. Segraves said.

Joel Susano, whose 9-year-old son was one of three youngsters named in charging documents, said he tried to have his son transferred but was turned down.

On March 23, his son came home with fingernail marks on his arm, which he said were caused by his teacher, Mr. Susano said, so he decided to file a formal complaint.

Parents said Mr. Susano's complaint was not the only one received months before any action was taken. And although they have no proof, parents said they suspect other school administrators knew of the problems at Millersville.

"I find it hard to believe that others up the line didn't know what was going on," said Mr. Segraves.

Mr. Carter said the situation was being investigated by his office, in conjunction with other agencies. He added that a formal investigation had been launched before Mr. Segraves' written complaints were lodged last week. He expected the probe to wrap up within the next two weeks.

What action should be taken, if any, will be determined at that time, he said.

He would not comment on specifics or whether the teacher would be transferred because the case involves personnel issues, which are considered confidential. Penalties for failing to report suspected child abuse would vary "depending on a lot of circumstances," he said.

"It might depend on whether the principal misread the situation," he said.

Last week, as charges against Ms. Snyder were made public, Mr. Shubert was transferred to another school, Brock Bridge Elementary in Laurel. School administrators would not say whether the transfer was related to Millersville's troubles.

Although many Millersville parents said they were happy with the decision, they were distressed that their problems were being dumped elsewhere.

Parents from Brock Bridge who attended the Tuesday meeting were disturbed that their principal, James Preston, was now being transferred to Millersville.

Deirdre Buell, the PTA president, said her school was broadsided by the news. "Why are they disrupting our school?" she asked. "This is very bad timing. We are aware of the formal complaints about [Mr. Shubert's] negligence. Why would they transfer him to our school when that is still a pending issue?"

Ms. Buell said her PTA has called its own meeting with Area Supervisor Martha Collinson to protest the principal's transfer.

Privately, several parents said the school system has a history of failing to resolve its personnel problems and relies on transfers to shift problems around.

"They just move them around," said one parent. "They never get rid of them."

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