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Federation confronts school system over sex abuse cases

MCCF MCPSMontgomery County Public Schools officials are up in arms following a contentious meeting of the Montgomery County Civic Federation last month, during which audience members angrily confronted Superintendent Jack Smith over MCPS’ handling of lawsuits related to child sex abuse in County schools.

“I am extremely disappointed that Dr. Smith was treated disrespectfully by audience participants, who were misguided about the approved agenda for the meeting,” MCPS Chief of Staff Henry Johnson wrote in a letter to MCCF president Jim Zepp. “In fairness to the superintendent, the MCCF leadership should have interceded and accepted responsibility for not informing the superintendent of the alternative agenda.”

According to Johnson, Smith’s attendance at the Jan. 8 meeting – which had an announced topic of “What’s in the MCPS Fiscal Year 2019 Operating Budget?” – was secured in August of last year after Smith was invited to discuss the MCPS budget around the time it would be considered by the County Council.

While Smith did deliver remarks on the budget, as planned, he was later accosted by audience members demanding he comment on a resolution the Federation passed late last year relating to child abuse and neglect and concerns of how much money the District was spending on legal settlements.

“We were aware of the resolution,” but not that it would be a topic of discussion for the Superintendent to address at the Civic Federation’s Jan. 8 meeting, Johnson said. If that had been the case, Smith would have attended the meeting with experts from the District better able to address the issue.

“We were not prepared for that conversation,” he said.

Johnson further addressed the lack of an opportunity to properly prepare in his letter to Zepp, writing: “It is disappointing that the superintendent was not granted the professional courtesy of being notified, in advance that MCCF’s resolution on child abuse secrecy and artificial turf were on the agenda.”

However, MCCF Second Vice President Danila Sheveiko disputed Johnson’s account of the meeting, and noted that Smith was twice notified that the resolution would be on the agenda, once when MCCF officials sent him a copy of the resolution, and once when they notified him in writing that a response would be expected.

“I just don’t understand how they say we didn’t let them know,” Sheveiko said. “It’s hard to be more clear,”

Sheveiko said some audience members “chased [Smith] out into the hallway” after he had finished delivering his prepared remarks on the budget when he attempted to leave before the question-and-answer portion of the meeting. “He wouldn’t even give us a response,” Sheveiko said.

Irate audience members “yelled and screamed” at Johnson as well, he said, adding that he told them the issue would be addressed in correspondence at a later date.

In a written response to Johnson’s MCCF First Vice President Bailey Condrey called Johnson’s claims that Smith’s office was never notified of the updated agenda “verifiably untrue.”

“Furthermore, the email copied Board of Education staff, and each Board of Education member and county councilmembers individually,” Condrey wrote.

While Johnson agreed his office received an email about the association’s resolution concerning child abuse, he said County school officials believed Smith had been invited for the sole purpose of discussing the budget.

Condrey’s letter extended a second invitation for Smith to “meaningfully address our concerns” at the Federation’s Feb. 12 meeting, but according to Johnson, neither Smith nor a representative will be able to attend due to a previously scheduled engagement. 

 @SuzannePollak

 

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