Robert Small said he wanted to express his dismay over the introduction of a new school curriculum at a public forum Thursday night in Towson, but instead the Ellicott City parent was pulled out of the meeting, arrested and charged with second-degree assault of a police officer.
Small stood and interrupted Baltimore County School Superintendent Dallas Dance during a question-and-answer session and began to tell the audience that he believed the new curriculum was lowering the standards of education and was intended to prepare students for community colleges. "You are not preparing them for Harvard," he said.
The format of the forum did not allow the public to stand and ask a question. Instead, those who wanted questions answered had to write them on a piece of paper. Dance read the questions and had members of a panel, which included state schools Superintendent Lillian Lowery, answer them.
When Small started speaking, Dance told him that he believed his question would be answered, but Small continued to talk. After a couple of minutes, a security guard confronted Small, saying, "Let's go. Let's go."
Small, 46, asked him if he was an officer and the security guard, an off-duty Baltimore County police officer, showed him a badge. The officer grabbed Small's arm and pulled him toward the aisle. The audience gasped and some people sitting nearby got out of their seats.
As he was being taken out, Small said, "Don't stand for this. You are sitting here like cattle." Then he said, "Is this America?"
The officer pushed Small and then escorted him into the hall, handcuffed him and had him sit on the curb in front of the school. He was taken to the Towson precinct and detained. Small was charged with second-degree assault of a police officer, which carries a fine of $2,500 and up to 10 years in prison, and disturbing a school operation, which carries a fine of $2,500 and up to six months.
The police report said that Dance's chief of staff, Michele Prumo, who was standing on the side of the auditorium, had asked the officer to walk over and calm Small down. The report also said Small had attempted to push the officer away when he first confronted him.
The forum was held by the Maryland State Department of Education to explain the new curriculum, known as the common core, to the public. Objections to the new standards, which are being implemented this year for the first time in 45 states and the District of Columbia, have been growing in the past several months.
Some conservatives have protested the introduction of the standards, saying they are an attempt by the federal government to take control over education, while others have criticized the reduction in the amount of literature that will be taught. The growing national debate has brought together both tea party and far-left critics of the common core.
However, Maryland education leaders say they are committed to going forward with the curriculum.
In an interview Friday, Small was not critical of the police officer but said he believed the state education officials were not allowing the public to express their concerns about the new curriculum.
"Look, I am being manhandled and shut down because I asked inconvenient questions," Small said. "Why won't they allow an open forum where there can be a debate? We are told to sit there and be lectured to about how great common core is."
The format was designed so that as many questions could be asked as possible in a short time, according to Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education. He said the same format was followed at a previous forum.
The department handed out rubber bracelets with a toll-free number so the public could have their questions answered. In addition, he said, Lowery stayed after the forum was over and answered individuals' questions.
Small said in the interview that he is a research manager for the Department of Veteran Affairs and has a second-grader and a sixth-grader who attend Howard County schools. He was released about 3 a.m., he said.
He said he has nothing against community colleges, because he went to one for two years and then transferred to the University of Maryland, College Park, where he got his bachelor's degree. However, he said, he wants his children to receive an education that will allow them to attend four-year colleges.