Most school officials absent at parents' meeting

July 23, 1992|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

Parents at Brock Bridge Elementary organized a town meeting Tuesday to ask school system officials about an ongoing investigation involving child abuse and allegations that their new principal failed to report the suspected abuse.

Problem was, the school officials didn't come.

Robin Stapleton, who has twin boys at Brock Bridge, told about 80 parents attending the meeting in Maryland City that she had called a dozen school officials and Board of Education members asking them to attend the meeting. Many, she said, did not respond to telephone messages; others declined to come.

But parents expected someone to show up -- they even set up a dais in the community room of Resurrection Roman Catholic Church especially for honored guests. Thirty minutes after the meeting was scheduled to begin, when it became clear school officials weren't coming, PTA members drafted three parents to sit on the dais instead.

School board member Joseph H. Foster, who was appointed to the board Monday, arrived before the meeting began but declined to sit on the dais. He explained later he had just taken office and therefore was not familiar with details of the controversy.

Mona Rynarzewski, one of the parents drafted to run the meeting, said she was frustrated by the absence of school administrators. "That's how much they care about our grievances," she said. "Unfortunately, without our guest speakers, we're lost. We're going to get nowhere."

School Superintendent C. Berry Carter, one of the invited guests, was on annual leave until yesterday and unable to attend, his secretary said. Cheryl Wilhoyte, assistant superintendent for instruction, was on medical leave but added she "is most willing to meet with parents at their convenience."

Huntley Cross, a special assistant to the superintendent who is conducting the internal board investigation, said he was first informed of the meeting Tuesday afternoon and had another commitment. He too said he would meet with parents to explain what he could, although he added there is little school officials can say about investigations involving personnel issues.

Mr. Cross said he expects to turn over his findings to the superintendent by Monday. If the investigation determines the accusations were not substantiated, that information can be made public, he said. However, if the investigation uncovers there was a problem, school officials cannot comment due to laws regarding employee confidentiality.

At issue are parent complaints that principal Henry Shubert, who was reassigned last month from Millersville to Brock Bridge Elementary, failed to report in a timely manner allegations of child abuse by a teacher 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.

After Ms. Synder was charged, several parents further alleged that the principal knew of the charges for months but failed to act. Millersville PTA president Steve Segraves delivered a formal complaint to Mr. Carter asking for a full investigation. He also questioned whether school officials "up the line" knew of the abuse and did nothing.

State law and board policy require that professional staff members report allegations of suspected child abuse to the Department of Social Services within 48 hours.

In response to the complaints, school officials launched an internal investigation. But before the investigation was completed, Mr. Shubert was transferred to Brock Bridge Elementary and Brock Bridge Principal James W. Preston was assigned to Millersville. School officials would not comment on whether the transfers were related to complaints against Mr. Shubert, who also declined to comment.

The principal swap, approved by the school board June 30, touched off a storm of protest by Brock Bridge parents, who adamantly oppose the transfer.

A petition being circulated Tuesday night states: "It is our understanding that a formal complaint has been filed by parents at Millersville Elementary alleging negligence in Principal Henry Shubert's performance. . . In light of these allegations, we adamantly refuse to accept the removal of Principal James Preston."

At Tuesday's meeting, 16 teachers and other staff members who have worked with Mr. Shubert attended to show support. "We dearly respect what Mr. Shubert does for children," said Irene Hildebrandt, a media specialist at Millersville. "I have worked with nine principals and I would put him at the very top of the list."

But testimonials by teachers did not lessen the parents' anxieties.

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