PTA leader wants to push school safety issue

October 14, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

Linda Muhammad said she knows what should have happened after that .22-caliber handgun went off at Grove Park Elementary School this week.

"That should have been a soft lockdown, according to the conference," Muhammad said from her Northeast Baltimore home yesterday morning.

The conference she referred to is the one that was held Tuesday in Chevy Chase. The one that President Bush - you might remember him as the guy every Democratic candidate in Maryland ran against in the primary - set up to discuss school safety. Muhammad said a "soft lockdown" would have required police securing and closing off the classroom where the handgun went off, moving all children to another area of the school and then calling parents immediately to retrieve their children.

Judging from an article in yesterday's Sun, not all of those things happened.

That "didn't happen in our schools," Muhammad opined, "because our administration isn't trained that way." Muhammad, the president of the Parent-Teacher Association at Govans Elementary School, said she learned about "soft lockdowns" at the six-hour conference. She also learned that, as far as she knows, she was the only participant from Baltimore in attendance.

"I called the Family Involvement Office at North Avenue when I got back," Muhammad said, "and asked why no one [from the Baltimore school system] was there. They told me that they didn't have enough time, that Bush put it together too quickly and that Bush didn't care."

It's downright alarming to know that Baltimore's policy on school safety is possibly being done according to the gospel of Kanye "George Bush doesn't care about black people" West. I called school officials at North Avenue to see if their account of the exchange comported with Muhammad's. They did not get back to me in time to meet my deadline for this column.

Muhammad saw the conference as an opportunity for the issue of safety at urban schools to be put on the table. That's exactly the question Muhammad said she put to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who moderated the meeting with Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

"Where's your urban representative on the panel?" Muhammad asked Spellings.

A more pertinent question might be "Where's violence at urban schools when it comes to the national news media?" That's also a concern of Muhammad's. She has put together a presentation called "Urban Schools Are Not Televised," with the help of some people she described as mentors.

"We may get local coverage," Muhammad said about violence at urban schools, "but we don't get the [national] coverage Colorado and [Nickel Mines] Pennsylvania got."

You might have read about Muhammad before during that unpleasant business regarding Martius Harding teaching at Govans Elementary. Harding pleaded guilty to felony drug charges in federal court in the summer of 2005. He taught the entire 2005-2006 school year at Govans. The principal at the time, Edith M. Jones, wrote a letter to the judge who sentenced Harding, pleading for him to go easy.

Jones was canned. Don't let the folks at North Avenue - who'll steal the eyes out of your head and claim you can see better without them - tell you any different. Muhammad protested Jones' firing, saying that was the consensus of PTA members.

"Sometimes it's about my constituency," said Muhammad, adding that she had serious misgivings about Jones' decision to let Harding continue teaching. "It's not about Linda Muhammad."

Muhammad got an invite to the safety conference on her own.

She called the White House and sent e-mails. She said the first time, she didn't get an answer. Then she sent another e-mail.

"I'm a parent," the e-mail said. "I'm involved. You can't have this conference without me."

As it turns out, Bush, Gonzales, Spellings and those mean old other Republicans didn't have the conference without her. Muhammad might have received more respect from the conference organizers than from members of Baltimore's school board, who were the targets of many of Muhammad's harsher criticisms.

"Right now, it's not our school board," Muhammad said. "It's [Gov. Robert L.] Ehrlich's and [Mayor Martin] O'Malley's school board."

Muhammad is pushing for legislation that would require Baltimore's school board to be elected. She added that she might even run for a position on an elected school board. If she runs and wins, some people down at North Avenue might want to consider heading for the Australian outback.

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