An administrative decision to swap two principals -- after allegations of child abuse arose at the school of one -- has touched off a storm of parental protest that shows no signs of diminishing.
At Brock Bridge Elementary School in Laurel Monday night, a crowd of angry parents gathered to protest the transfer of their principal, James W. Preston, to Millersville Elementary School. Millersville Principal Henry Shubert is scheduled to take the reins at Brock Bridge on July 27.
Many Brock Bridge parents told Martha Collinson, the elementary school supervisor who initiated the swap, that they objected to the transfers while an investigation was still under way at Millersville.
On June 29, Margaret M. Snyder, a 57-year-old fourth-grade teacher, was charged with three counts of assault and battery in connection with incidents allegedly taking place in her classroom March 23 and June 5. According to charging documents, children were scratched or fingernail marks were made on their arms, stomachs or chests as the teacher grabbed and moved them.
The following week, Millersville PTA president Steve Segraves delivered a formal complaint to School Superintendent C. Berry Carter II alleging that Mr. Schubert had not acted for months on numerous complaints about abuse by the teacher.
State law and school board policy, which require professional staff to report allegations of suspected child abuse to the Department of Social Services, were violated by Mr. Shubert, Mr. Segraves alleged. He also questioned whether school officials "up the line" knew of the abuse and did nothing.
After a meeting at Millersville June 9, called by parents to air their complaints, school officials contacted police, who conducted their own investigation and charged Ms. Snyder.
The Board of Education approved the transfers June 30. School officials would not comment on whether the transfers were related to allegations against Ms. Snyder and Mr. Shubert. Both have declined to comment.
Ms. Collinson, supervisor of both principals, said she believed the transfers were final. She added that Mr. Shubert had "broken no rules" and "was not guilty of anything," marking the first time a school official has commented on the case.
"Mr. Shubert followed all the procedures required to deal with that teacher," Ms. Collinson said. "He reported on time and in a proper fashion. He filled out all the paperwork to the appropriate agencies."
But when parents pressed her for more details -- the dates of complaints and when they were reported -- she said she could not comment because the matter was under investigation. She later said Mr. Shubert was not under investigation personally, only the teacher, and that Mr. Shubert's role could not be discussed further because it was a personnel issue.
Superintendent Carter said last week that both the teacher and principal were under investigation.
After the meeting, attended by about 60 parents, many said they were frustrated by contradictory information and the lack of straight answers.
"I still don't feel comfortable about the transfer," said Arlene Reed of Maryland City. "I feel like Mr. Preston felt pressured to move. And I feel that information about the investigation should come out first before [Mr. Shubert] comes here."
Mr. Preston said he did not expect the transfer but accepted it voluntarily when asked. Mr. Preston, who lives in Millersville, told parents he would be able to walk to work and considered it a good move, even though he would miss Brock Bridge, where he has been principal for five years.
A small but vocal part of the crowd urged parents to give Mr. Shubert a fair shake and to keep their minds open.
"Can we at least form our own opinions before school starts instead of swallowing rumors and news reports?" asked one parent.
But others vowed to continue their fight. They reluctantly accepted that they could not hold onto Mr. Preston, but insisted they didn't want Mr. Shubert.
"I'd rather have someone I've never heard of before than this man," said Bonnie Ricci. "I think we should take this to the school board."
Two parent meetings with Mr. Shubert are scheduled for July 28 at the school -- one at 1 p.m. and another at 7.