Howard teacher's firing sets off sit-in

Educator blames loss of her job on run for school board

April 29, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

An affluent Howard County school erupted in protest yesterday over the firing of a popular teacher, with dozens of students staging a "sit-down" in the gym and one parent being arrested for trespassing.

Police were called to supervise dismissal at Glenwood Middle School in western Howard County. No pupils were suspended, but officials said they will reassign Kristine Lockwood, the seventh-grade language arts teacher that pupils were trying to support.

It was the first student demonstration in Howard County in about 13 years, school officials said.

The protesters were reacting to the news that the school board voted Thursday night not to renew Lockwood's contract for next school year.

Lockwood, who ran unsuccessfully for the school board this academic year, claims her firing was in retaliation for her criticism of the school system. One school board member warned her last month to be "careful" because the panel was watching her.

Schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey has said he cannot comment on the reason Lockwood's contract was not renewed because it's a personnel issue. But he said it has "absolutely" nothing to do with her outspokenness.

About 100 parents and children attended the school board meeting to support Lockwood. Hickey called in the police to keep order.

Yesterday at about noon when recess ended, students said, about 100 seventh-graders initially refused to leave their seats on the gym bleachers.

Administrators put the number at about 25 students. They told students to leave, and most did so within a few minutes.

But Alexandra Bill, a seventh-grader, said she and three other pupils stayed for about 15 minutes. They were sent to the guidance office, and administrators called their parents to take them home, said the 12-year-old.

"We're not being heard, and we strongly believe Mrs. Lockwood should stay," she said. "Mrs. Lockwood is the best teacher."

Five pupils, rather than going into the gym, ran outside, dropped to the ground and linked arms, crying and yelling: "We love you, Mrs. Lockwood."

"We were just trying to speak our minds, because the school board wouldn't listen," said Katie Hutchison, 13, one of that group.

Principal Dan Michaels ordered reporters off the school property and declined to comment shortly before the demonstration. He could not be reached for comment after classes let out for the day.

Schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan said she was proud of how Michaels handled the situation yesterday and that further protests would not change the school system's mind about Lockwood.

"As far as the board and the department are concerned, that's it," she said. "I don't believe that anything will change as a result of this."

She said the protests were not peaceful. "This was an intent to disrupt," she said.

A few parents who visited the school at the time of the demonstration were asked by administrators to leave, but one -- Barry Tevelow, a Glenwood father -- walked back onto the property when he saw the pupils run out.

He was led away in handcuffs, charged with two counts of trespassing and released on his own recognizance.

He faces a maximum fine of $1,000 and six months in jail for each count.

Glenwood Middle School, located in one of the most affluent areas of the county, sits amid rolling hills and farmland off Route 97. It had the second-highest score in the county last year on the state's annual Maryland School Performance Assessment Program.

But now some Glenwood parents and pupils are talking about boycotting the MSPAP test, given in May to third-, fifth- and eighth-graders, to send the message that they're angry.

Stephen C. Bounds, a school board member who has two children at Glenwood Middle, said that pupils are being "used by adults" and that the uproar doesn't show the school as it is.

"They've got a terrific principal, it's a terrific staff, it's a terrific school," said Bounds.

He abstained from the vote Thursday night on Lockwood's contract because, as a candidate running for re-election, he and the teacher were campaigning against each other.

But he said the allegation that Lockwood is being punished for speaking out is "absurd."

However, Lockwood said school board member Laura Waters told her in March to be careful because the board was watching her.

Waters confirmed that yesterday, saying Lockwood's criticism of the school system prompted the conversation.

"I was warning her to be careful," she said. "I just was afraid that someone would get hurt."

Caplan said Lockwood is being reassigned until the end of the school year-- administrators don't yet know to where -- "to ensure that the instructional program at Glenwood moves forward this year without any further disruption."

"We owe that to the kids," she said.

"This is the first experience they've had of standing up for themselves, and this is what they got," said Laura Decker, a Glenwood parent who supports Lockwood.

Lockwood said last night that she spent much of the day in her classroom and was "sickened" that she will not be finishing out the school year at Glenwood.

"They are hurting my students' education," she said.

"The kids do what they do because they love her," said Ian Bill, an eighth-grader who had Lockwood as a teacher last year. "We're all going to wear black on Monday."

Sun staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this story.

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