Friday, March 27, 2009

Mason Mum at SEAC Meeting

At the March 26 meeting of the Special Education Advisory Committee, the Montgomery County Public Schools Director of Special Education, Gwen Mason, informed the committee that she would not answer any questions concerning the evening's discussion topic – the Office of Shared Accountability Report on the Closure of the Secondary Learning Centers.

Ms. Mason stated plainly to those in attendance, including many parents and Board of Education member Phil Kauffman, that they could ask questions, and she would write them down, but she would not answer them. Ms. Mason went further to say that she had been advised to deploy this strategy. When challenged, Ms. Mason refused to identify who within the MCPS administration had provided that advice.

Ms. Mason went further to state that she had discussed this approach, relying only upon one way public communication, with the current President of the Board of Education, Shirley Brandman.

A member of the Advisory Committee spoke this morning to Ms. Brandman. Ms. Brandman claimed that Ms. Mason's conversation with her was only in passing while they were both at a conference. Furthermore, it was Ms. Brandman’s understanding that while Ms. Mason may be unable to answer some of the questions, Ms. Mason would attempt to be as responsive as possible.

Two years ago when the closure of this major special education program, the Secondary Learning Centers, was first approved by the Board of Education, there was a major negative public reaction, and legal action, specifically centered around the lack of public input concerning the decision.

Since that time the Board of Education has claimed to make improved communication with the Disability Community a focus area, and pledged to do better. Based upon Ms. Mason's performance last night, it is clear that there is a major disconnect between those wishes of the Board of Education and the School System Administration.

One cynic wonders whether Mason's action in refusing to answer questions about the Learning Center report is specifically to avoid talking about the rampant problems with the new model until after Spring IEP season is finished.

And of course, some of the first questions for Mason, when she decides she's good and ready to answer questions, are (1) "Why was the report 'sat on' for six months after it was finished before being released to the community?" and (2) "When BOE member Laura Berthiaume specifically asked for a copy of this report before the vote on the next year's budget, why wasn't it released to the public at that time?"

----complied by report from Bob Astrove

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