This article brought to you by Informed Carroll County.
The Carroll County Board of Education wrapped up their last monthly open session meeting of 2023 by covering a range of topics last week. Among them were updates on the status of CCPS Blueprint implementation, possible revisions to board policy IIAA regarding the selection, evaluation, and adoption of instructional materials and a proposal for the board to begin an evaluation of CCPS cell phone policy.
During an update on Blueprint, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Jonathon O’Neal showcased the growing consensus among several jurisdictions across Maryland calling for flexibility and clarity. Mr. O’Neal was able to share for the first time publicly that there would be no penalties for FY 2025 fiscal compliance and therefore no immediate need for the substantial staffing shifts that Superintendent Dr. McCabe outlined during her community town halls earlier this year. FY 2025 will now serve as a budget baseline for compliance moving forward. Thus allowing each individual jurisdiction to use FY25 to find reasonable ways to make their programs work and the ability to come into compliance with Blueprint requirements. Dr. Dorsey interjected, saying that this news was “pretty major”. Several other board members thanked Dr. McCabe for her and her staff’s work in getting out in front of the challenges brought on by Blueprint and leading the state in calls for flexibility and reasonableness.
Board member Donna Sivigny pointed out that contrary to unfounded claims of idleness made by some unfamiliar with Blueprint, including repeat BOE candidate Amanda Jozkowski, CCPS recognized issues and concerns well ahead of time and that other jurisdictions have now fallen in line with Carroll, joining the call to the state for flexibility.
During public comment at the April 2023 board of education meeting Amanda had this to say, “Districts in neighboring counties have been working to build capacity and address the coming changes well in advance. This preparation has served them well, yet our county seems to have sat on its hands until we reached crisis mode.”
Mr. O’Neal also informed the board that CCPS has taken advantage of an opportunity offered by the Accountability & Implementation Board(AIB) to provide a strategic facilitator for Blueprint implementation. The AIB has matched CCPS with Dr. Frank Grossman. Dr. Grossman will be assisting both Carroll and Dorchester counties through engaging key stakeholder groups and developing strategies for plans and obstacles.
Proposed Policy Language That Would Bring Clarity to “Sexually Explicit” materials in Schools
Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, Nicholas R. Shockney presented possible language additions to board policy IIAA for board discussion. His presentation was in response to a motion made by board member Steve Whisler during the October 2023 open session where central office staff was asked to review board policy IIAA regarding the selection, evaluation, and adoption of instructional materials and to develop potential revisions that included a definition of sexually explicit content. This policy also applies to the selection of supplemental materials found in school media centers.
Marsha Herbert, Board President, made clear that the request was part of an effort to “provide clarification and avoid ambiguity”. The proposed additional language does provide an exception for the materials approved for instruction related to family life and human development courses.
Carroll County would be the first and only jurisdiction in the state to take action ensuring that all materials are age appropriate and have educational value. A bold step that once again leads the state in prioritizing a focus on academic excellence and striving to reject the social justice distractions pushed by unions out of Annapolis. At least one other jurisdiction has reached out to Carroll County in an effort to find ways to do the same in their own school system.
And looking ahead to the 2024 legislative session beginning next month, it would seem that CCPS may once again be drawing the ire of far left activists. According to MSEA’s website, a top priority for the union is “protecting students and library and media specialists from book bans”.
After Mr. Shockney’s presentation board member Steve Whisler was quick to point out, “Again, the focus is providing the best quality materials to our students and I really appreciate the staff for putting this together”. The policy revision is available to the Carroll County community for review here. There will be a chance for public comment at the next Board of Education meeting on January 10, 2024 and according to the CCPS website Citizens are encouraged to submit their comments online at https://bit.ly/3RJEYFvor by U.S. mail to the Superintendent’s Office, Carroll County Public Schools, 125 North Court Street, Westminster, MD 21157.
Carroll County BOE to begin review of “antiquated” cell phone policy
At the end of the meeting, Board Vice President, Tara Battaglia took time to propose that the board take a serious look at the current cell phone policy. This comes in response to calls from community members, parents, teachers and school board candidates asserting that the presence of cell phones throughout the day is a distraction and contributes to bullying and unethical behaviors among some students.
Dr. McCabe suggested that a good place to start would be having a presentation that outlines what the current policy states. From there, staff will draw data and information from neighboring states and jurisdictions regarding different policies and any effects they have had on student behavior. Board members asked that teachers be involved in the process, suggesting that work groups be formed to gather their input.
Board member Donna Sivigny was quick to point out that any teacher wanting to ban cell phone use in their classroom, has the ability and flexibility to do so under the current policy. It was noted that due to all CCPS students having access to a personal chromebook, the phones are not serving any real academic purpose in the classroom anyway. She wanted teachers to know that they do not have to wait for the entire process to play out before taking action.
Many parents however have said that banning cell phones in the classroom simply does not go far enough to address the bullying epidemic that is plaguing all students. Instead they are asking that the board look at what can be done to limit the use of the devices in other parts of the school building such as hallways, bathrooms and lunchrooms.
Interestingly even the student representative to the board of education, Sahithya Sudhakar, agreed that cell phone usage by students needs to be reduced. She pointed out that the fault is not on the teachers but on students that are not following current policies.
All members agreed that the goal is to have a clear and consistent policy in place that addresses student distractions and behavior while making sure that teachers are not put in a position of having to police cell phone use.
Board of Education emails are listed below for any additional information or comments.