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Deputy Superintendent Sylvia Lawson’s Defense of Choudhury, Viewed by MSDE Employees As the Superintendent’s “Henchwoman”, Casts Doubt on Decision-Making Process
The Maryland State Board of Education has postponed its decision on whether to offer a new contract to State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury. Despite the scheduled vote on Tuesday evening, the board opted to continue deliberating on the matter, drawing attention to the recent controversies surrounding the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) under Choudhury’s leadership.
Over the past year, several troubling issues have surfaced, exposing a toxic work culture, transparency concerns, and questions about the department’s spending practices. Reports of these challenges have put Choudhury’s future at MSDE in jeopardy and have resulted in an online petition calling for the Superintendent’s removal reaching over 2,500 signatures.
One individual who passionately voiced his concerns during the board meeting was former MSDE employee Robert Eccles. Eccles addressed the board during public comment, raising questions about the accountability of the leadership and urging the board to reconsider their definition of “brilliant and transformational leadership.”
“Transformational leaders actually lead people and don’t disparage them. They invite feedback and can take criticism without retaliation,” Eccles asserted. “Brilliant leaders prioritize delivering on time. They care more about collaboration than control, and they don’t repeatedly trash partners in private and sabotage their access to valuable federal or state resources because of personal grudges.”
Choudhury’s current contract is set to expire on June 30, 2024, and the board had the option to offer him a new four-year contract during the Tuesday meeting. However, the decision was deferred, indicating that the concerns raised by employees and community members have left a significant impact on the board’s considerations.
In the exchange, Board President Clarence Crawford, a steadfast supporter of Choudhury, directly asked Lawson if she had observed any of the behaviors Choudhury has been accused of.
Lawson firmly responded, “I have absolutely not, especially in some of the most recent accounts of what has been stated in the press.”
However, Lawson’s involvement has sparked its own set of controversies, as she has been viewed by current and former MSDE employees as a “henchwoman” for Choudhury, allegedly contributing to the toxic workplace culture. Several sources have come forward to share their own experiences with the Deputy, describing instances of bullying and abuse of power by Lawson.
One former employee stated, “She takes pleasure in exercising power over others. She bullied her subordinates and did a lot of the dirty work for Choudhury.”
The source would go on to describe a troubling incident where Lawson allegedly targeted an executive who filed a grievance against her. Unaware of Lawson’s presence, the executive was brought into a conference room by a colleague, only to find themselves under pressure by Lawson to “rethink” the filing. The encounter left the executive feeling threatened and ultimately compelled to leave the organization.
Another source described an incident where Lawson allegedly chastised an employee during a team-building event. Lawson barged into the event and berated the organizer, falsely accusing them of stealing a conference room reservation. “They were humiliated in front of their peers,” said the source.
The stories have cast doubt on Lawson’s statements and the integrity of the decision-making process within the MSDE leadership. Calls for an independent third-party investigation into the alleged misconduct and toxic work culture have gone unanswered so far.
The Board’s decision to postpone the vote signals that the concerns raised by employees and community members cannot be overlooked by President Crawford and the State Board. As the deliberations continue, the public remains attentive to the Board’s response to these allegations and their commitment to addressing the issues within the Maryland State Department of Education.