Yesterday was supposed to have been the day that Sabrina Galante's 18-year-old son got to meet and shake hands with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., on the grounds of the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County.
For Galante's son, one of only a few students at the juvenile detention center to be designated for the honor, the gubernatorial handshake was to have been a reward for two months of high marks and glowing evaluations.
FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions on the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School incorrectly referred to Sabrina Galante as the mother of a student at Hickey who had recently had surgery, but who had not been notified until after the operation. Galante is the student's stepmother. His mother is Tammy Faith of Evansville, Ind., who also was not notified of the surgery until afterward. The Sun regrets the error.
For Ehrlich, it was an opportunity to trumpet the state's recent improvements to Hickey's widely criticized living conditions and educational instruction.
Yet, as past governors have discovered to their dismay, the Hickey School has a way of disrupting such plans. Ehrlich got his media event, but Galante's son missed it because of minor surgery, a procedure that had his mother fuming because she said school officials neglected to tell her until 24 hours later.
In addition, Juvenile Services Department officials announced in the wake of Ehrlich's upbeat assessment that on Wednesday they had shut down Hickey's dining hall, laundry and food storage building, noting concerns over moldy walls. For the next six weeks, the center's 170 residents will be eating catered meals at their residence halls.
Galante also complained that, contrary to yesterday's boasts by a phalanx of state officials, Hickey's schooling is still a mess, featuring a subpar curriculum and daily doses of, in her words, "three hours of goofing off and kids jumping around and acting stupid."
It is not as if the state hasn't made progress since taking over Hickey on April 1 from the much-maligned private contractor, Correctional Services Corp./Youth Services International, which had run the place for 11 years.
In the past three months, state officials have shut down a residence hall for renovations, weeded out staffers with criminal records, reduced the school population from 230 and begun preparing to turn over classroom instruction to the Maryland State Department of Education.
But, as Juvenile Services Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr. said yesterday, "There are still many issues and challenges we have to overcome."
Galante's chief complaint with the school -- that she was not notified of her son's surgery until after the fact -- was disputed by state officials.
Juvenile Services spokeswoman LaWanda Edwards said that Hickey officials maintain that Galante was notified a week earlier that her son was scheduled for minor urological outpatient surgery Wednesday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.
Galante, who said she knew her son needed the procedure, said she didn't learn of the date until yesterday afternoon, when a Hickey nurse telephoned to tell her that the surgery had been a success.
"Every person I called to complain to said that somebody else should have told me," she said.
Counter to state's view
Her depiction of her son's school classes at Hickey -- three hours of daily instruction, with lessons on a ninth-grade level for a 12th-grade student -- also ran counter to claims made yesterday at the news conference.
Carolyn Buser, who, as director of the state's Correctional Education Program, is overseeing the State Department of Education's takeover of Hickey's classes set for next month, said the state had boosted instruction to six hours daily.
Later, when asked for clarification in light of Galante's remarks, Buser said through a spokeswoman that the state would achieve the six-hour level next month.
Not a vote-getting issue
Ehrlich, who campaigned heavily on the issue of juvenile justice by spotlighting the woes of the previous administration, acknowledged yesterday that it isn't much of a vote-getter once you're in office.
"In fact, if you're a political professional or a pundit your advice would be, stay away from this cause," he said.