Bidding for a comeback

Former Carroll County school board member who resigned in racial-slur episode now one of four contenders for two seats

November 02, 2008|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,joseph.burris@baltsun.com

When Jeffrey Morse resigned from the Carroll County school board in May amid the outcry that followed his use of a racial slur, he had no intention of ever running for another term.

But now the Silver Run resident is trying to make his way back, one of four candidates vying for two spots in Tuesday's election. Among the other candidates is Virginia Harrison of Sykesville, who was appointed by the governor to finish Morse's term. Harrison is running as a write-in candidate.

"I had time in the summer to spend with my family and we gave it a lot more though and discussion," Morse said. "We weighed the pluses and minuses, and in August I made the final decision and announced I would run."

Residents in Anne Arundel and Howard counties also will pick school board members on Tuesday. In Howard, six candidates are vying for three positions, while in Anne Arundel, voters will exercise a 2007 law that for the first time enables them to decide whether newly appointed members should be retained.

Morse, who teaches biology at Littlestown High School in Pennsylvania, was appointed in 2007 by Gov. Martin O'Malley to complete the term of Thomas Hiltz, who stepped down because of family and career demands.

Morse resigned in March after he admitted to using a racial slur to describe a black rock while touring a school construction site. Initially he offered his resignation to the board, but the members suggested that an apology was sufficient. Yet the furor over the remark persisted after Morse's apology, prompting his subsequent resignation.

Harrison, chairwoman of the county's Human Relations Commission, was appointed to the open seat in April.

Morse had finished fourth in the February primary. Two candidates also running Tuesday finished first and second: Jennifer Seidel of Mount Airy and board President Cynthia Foley of Westminster. Barry Potts, president of the Carroll County Education Association, finished third but subsequently dropped out and is supporting Harrison.

Morse continued attending school board meetings, and in August, at the urging of residents, decided not to withdraw his name from the general election ballot.

"It was a very difficult time, both personally and for my family, in March," Morse said last week. "On one hand, I was apprehensive about putting my family back in the situation. On the other hand, I have a strong commitment to public education. I've devoted my life to public education and I feel that I have something positive to offer the school system."

Morse's remark prompted dialogue about race issues in the county, something that Morse and others agreed was needed.

At the time, former school administrator Aurora Pagulayan, who for years promoted multicultural education in the school system, said the incident should be used "as an educational experience or a teachable moment for those who are directly or indirectly involved."

"A dialogue, an open dialogue, would be very helpful," she said.

Jean Lewis, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said at the time that she was sorry Morse had resigned.

"I was willing to work with him if he was willing to work with us," Lewis said. "I thought we had a teaching opportunity here."

Last week Morse said, "There was a lot of good and healthy dialogue. I don't know how long that dialogue continued, but I certainly hope that if I get back on the board that dialogue would continue," he said. "We need more of that kind of dialogue in Carroll County."

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