School board slams door shut on angry crowd Baltimore County parents, teachers protest policies

June 18, 1993|By Mary Maushard and Larry Carson | Mary Maushard and Larry Carson,Staff Writers Staff writer Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this article.

The Baltimore County school board slammed the doors shut on an angry crowd of parents and teachers last night, putting a premature end to a tense meeting and a day of protest against school department policies.

Although several hundred people had waited nearly three hours in a sweltering boardroom to air a variety of grievances, board President Rosalie Hellman refused to allow any of the public comments that usually follow the regular agenda.

"I generally entertain questions from the public at this time. But because of the size of the crowd, I will entertain a motion to adjourn," she said.

The waiting spectators immediately began to shout criticisms of the board and Superintendent Stuart Berger, but special plainclothes police quickly closed the sliding doors that separate the boardroom from the areas set aside for spectators.

"This is a slap in the face of education," said Brenda Rainwater, a teacher at Rodgers Forge Elementary School. "I wasn't surprised at all. Dr. Berger's management style has been controlling. If you are serving the public, why do you shut the public out?"

Dr. Berger, who is ending a turbulent first year on the job in typically turbulent style, said, "Their behavior speaks for itself. What else can I tell you?"

Mrs. Hellman added, "I cannot allow a meeting to get out of control. This may be bad PR, but we have to err on the side of safety."

About 200 people, many of them angry parents of children in special education schools, gathered outside school department headquarters on Charles Street an hour before the meeting.

Earlier in the day, more than 600 teachers rallied at Loyola College to denounce Dr. Berger.

With signs reading "Inclusion or Delusion?" and "Children First, Budget Second," the parents' group registered its disapproval of the county's quick moves to transfer children with severe handicaps out of special schools and into neighborhood schools. Many of the parents brought along youngsters, some in wheelchairs.

Jackie Mittleman of Catonsville objected to what she and many other parents see as a hasty and disorganized attempt to move handicapped youngsters into programs in local schools that exist only on paper.

"I would like them to set up a curriculum. I would like them to test that curriculum. I want them to just slow down," she said.

Her 7-year-old, Alex, who will be leaving the Chatsworth special education school in Reisterstown, said, "I just wish Dr. Berger would slow down a little bit and stop closing other kids' schools."

Uniformed policemen watched the demonstrators outside, while

officers in plainclothes stood at the doors of the sweltering boardroom. Not all of the demonstrators were allowed inside because there was no room for them in the two rooms set aside for the public. As people left, others were allowed to enter.

When the crowd began to cheer and boo parts of a presentation on "site-based management," a term the administration uses for giving principals more power, Ms. Hellman stopped the presentation to say, "I am not going to permit the outbursts from the public during the business session.

"If this continues, I will have to ask you to leave."

The board approved the site-based management plan.

The crowd included a number of teachers wearing bright yellow T-shirts that read, "Change without confidence causes chaos."

That was the theme of the afternoon rally sponsored by the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, whose members came by the bus load to hear speakers denounce Dr. Berger for what they called an autocratic, sometimes whimsical, seat-of-the-pants management style that excluded parents, teachers and even administrators from decision-making.

He was also criticized for treating his administrators poorly and demoting or transferring them without notice.

TABCO president Ed Veit said Dr. Berger's decentralization movement should be called "fright-based management," instead of "site-based management."

The rally was punctuated with the distribution of a yellow "report card," and members were asked to give Dr. Berger "pass" or "fail" grades on a variety of subjects.

Given the mood of the crowd, there was little doubt of the outcome.

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