Police break up protest of school board

Howard 7th-graders and parents oppose firing of teacher

`They wouldn't even listen'

Educator criticized schools in primary bid

protest called `a show'

April 28, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Police were called to a Howard County school board meeting to keep order yesterday afternoon when about 100 seventh-graders and their parents disrupted the session over a popular middle school teacher who was later fired despite the demonstration of support.

The incident began when the board said only five people would be allowed to speak during the "listening post" part of the meeting. After they spoke, former school board candidate Allen Dyer stood up and started calling on Kristine Lockwood's supporters, who rose to speak on the teacher's behalf as the board tried unsuccessfully to call the meeting to order.

Chairwoman Sandra H. French then ordered a recess at about 4: 25 p.m., and the board walked out in the midst of a tearful plea from one pupil that Lockwood's job be saved. As the board retreated to a back room, Dyer, a Glenelg computer consultant, continued to conduct the meeting with encouragement from Lockwood, who was in attendance.

Lockwood, 30, a language arts teacher at Glenwood Middle School in western Howard County, ran unsuccessfully in the school board primary in March. She openly criticized the school system in her campaign, saying it doesn't support teachers adequately and has refused to test some students whom she thought needed special education services.

She has said the school system is retaliating for her outspokenness as a candidate and teacher.

Schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey has said that he can't comment on personnel issues, but denies that Lockwood's criticism is the reason for her firing. As an untenured teacher of almost two years, the system can fire Lockwood without giving her a reason.

"I feel so sorry for my students," Lockwood said after the meeting. "I think I was prepared for this, but I'm not sure that they were." Lockwood is to finish out her year teaching at Glenwood Middle.

When the board left the meeting yesterday, staying away for about 45 minutes, Hickey called Howard County police. As they waited to return, board member Stephen Bounds complained that the adults were "using children." Other board members said it was the first demonstration of support for Lockwood that they had seen.

"This is not lobbying. This is a show. This is a performance," Bounds said. "If anyone had cared to contact me they could have, and no one did."

When the board returned, students and parents were still lined up at the podium to speak about Lockwood. Reading a statement prepared by Hickey and the district's lawyer, French advised the crowd that anyone else who disrupted the meeting would be asked to leave.

But Dyer continued to speak, and French motioned security coordinator Steve Drummond to threaten Dyer with forced removal if he didn't stop. Dyer sat down quietly, and pupils clasped hands across the rows of seats awaiting the board's decision.

The board then quickly voted to approve a large bloc of leaves, resignations and terminations, including Lockwood's. As they moved on to the next agenda item, parents realized the vote had been taken and jumped up, shouting and cursing at board members and administrators.

"What is the purpose of this process if you're not even going to listen to us?" one mother screamed at the board.

Two police officers, who had been at the side of the room, moved in closer to the crowd to herd them out of the meeting.

The board resumed its regular business. Outside in the hallway, Lockwood hugged her students as young girls sobbed.

"I hope they're happy because they have hurt a lot of kids," said Mallory Smith, 12. "They wouldn't even listen to us."

Lockwood said she is unsure whether she is legally able to appeal the board's decision, but said she is planning to call the American Civil Liberties Union.

"People want to be heard, and the school system -- their elected representatives -- have totally ignored them," Lockwood said. "It's about control. It's about `how dare you question our authority.' But I wasn't questioning their authority, I was questioning the mode of operation."

Sun staff writer Jamie Smith Hopkins contributed to this article.

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