Balto. Co. teacher resigns over dispute with city officials Children hurt, parents angered at squabble

December 22, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

When kindergartners return to Owings Mills Elementary School this morning, one class will be missing an important member -- teacher Sharon Weber.

After a tearful farewell, Weber left the Baltimore County school last week because Baltimore school officials are seeking a rare ,, suspension of her teaching license for breaking an agreement to work for the city.

The kindergarten teacher signed up for a city school assignment this summer but resigned the day after finding that her classroom lacked such basic materials as books, building blocks and puzzles for 5-year-old students.

Two weeks later, Weber was offered the job in Baltimore County. But city school administrators found out about her new position and took the unusual step of asking the state to suspend her credentials for violating her contract with them.

Rather than live with a suspension hanging over her head, Weber resigned Friday -- leaving 23 kindergartners and their parents baffled, saddened and angry by the bureaucratic battle.

"I think it's horrible for Baltimore City to try to do this to her," said Melinda Clavell, whose daughter Elisa was in Weber's class. "The children are the ones who are really suffering. My daughter has been upset ever since she found out that Mrs. Weber was leaving."

Weber said she, too, is upset but hopes that leaving before the winter break will make it easier for the children and the school.

"It was really, really hard to say goodbye to the children," Weber said. "But this was easier than if I just suddenly didn't show up for class one day because the city succeeded in getting my credential suspended."

City school officials said that Weber shouldn't have violated state regulations by leaving city schools and then taking a job in another district within the same school year.

"There was a violation of the terms of the contract," said Vanessa Pyatt, city schools

spokeswoman.

The suspension of teaching credentials for such contract violations is rare, both in the city and across Maryland.

Under state regulations, school districts are allowed to ask the Maryland State Department of Education to suspend the credentials of teachers who quit after the start of the school year, said Ronald A. Peiffer, an assistant state superintendent and spokesman for the department. "But they don't always exercise that option."

Since 1989, there have been 30 such suspensions in the state, Peiffer said. Pyatt said that city schools have sought no more than five such suspensions in the past five years.

Neither Pyatt nor Peiffer knew how often districts choose not to seek the suspension of credentials for teachers who leave after the start of the school year, though both agreed that the number would be far greater than 30.

Weber and the parents of her kindergartners wonder what she has done to merit the extra attention from city school officials.

"They made this law to prevent teachers from job-hopping in the middle of the year, but she resigned before she ever got a class of kids in the city," said Pam Neuberth, room mother for Weber's classroom. "Who is it hurting to have her stay in our school? Why is the city doing this to her and to our kids?"

A native of Birmingham, England, Weber taught in an inner-city school in her hometown for 2 1/2 years before she and her Maryland-born husband, Frank, moved to Baltimore last year.

"I really wanted to teach in public schools, because that's what I have always believed in, and I wanted to teach in an inner-city school like I did in Birmingham," said Weber, 32, who worked as a substitute in a Catholic school last spring while waiting for Maryland to recognize her British teaching credentials.

But Weber quickly discovered that her teaching experience in England's second-largest city was nothing like what she found at Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary School, across the street from the city school administration's North Avenue headquarters.

"There were no supplies -- nothing except a roll of toilet paper and a ream of photocopying paper," Weber said. "There were no books, puzzles, building blocks or construction materials in my area.

"I approached several teachers to find out how to locate these items [and] I was given varied answers ranging from 'You'll have to supply your own' to 'We might get some things on the first day' to 'There are none,' " she said. "I found it intolerable to have to wait until the first day of school to find out whether or not I would be provided with this basic equipment."

Such supplies as books and blocks are typically provided in Baltimore County kindergarten classrooms -- and in a letter to Weber after she resigned, the principal of Dallas F. Nicholas insisted that more teaching materials would have been provided after Labor Day.

But before classes began, after working one paid day, Weber resigned.

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