In that case, the Muslim community had been, they thought, reaching out to the Board for many months at least.  Their plea: please put Eid on the existing proposed calendar.  Don’t make any changes in school closure days for the 2015-16 calendar year, just please add the holiday, as it coincides with the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.  But the Board would have none of it.  With the lone exception of Board Member Mike Durso, the board instead went with this absurd option: strip out the names of the Jewish and Christian holidays, but (per state law) leave the Christian holidays as vacation days, and, from year to year, assure that the Jewish holidays would be a day of school closure.

Unfortunately, their ‘assurance’ was hollow, given that the proposed 2016-2017 calendar did not have Yom Kippur, which falls on October 12, as a holiday.  Instead, the Board decided that Jews could celebrate their holiday the day before, on October 11.  Or at least, I think that was the intent.  The Jewish holidays had been on the MCPS academic calendar since the 1970s, according to Superintendent Starr’s memo.  And, according to one activist the Muslim community had been trying to meet with Dr. Starr for quite awhile about their concern, but had never received a response.  We understand other members of the interfaith community had been working on the calendar, and they too, were somewhat shocked as the events unfolded.  The entire debacle is online at the MCPS website.  Please take a look.

We should also look at the rollout of the Chrome laptop computers and Google Apps for Education in schools across Montgomery County.  MCPS purchased 40,000 laptops to give to students. The parents had this question: what privacy protection is in place? Answer: not so much.  One parent, Ellen Zavian, reported when she visited her child’s classroom and reviewed their Google Apps for Education account, she saw ads from Google and the Kahn Academy in her child’s Gmail account; links to Google Shopping and Google Wallet, with her child’s name pre-filled in the app; and more.  This list doesn’t even cover the massive data mining and subsequent granular profiling that appears to be Google’s main purpose for selling this app to schools, including colleges and universities.

This past year the vast extent of Google’s data mining activities and ambitions came to light, in part because of a class action lawsuit filed by two lawyers in Texarkana, Texas.  As you likely know by now, Google reads your Gmail and collects information on your online navigation choices.  According to a comprehensive article by Jeff Gould, these attorneys decided the ‘data mining’ was in fact illegal wiretapping.  The case was settled, however numerous internal Google documents came to light, describing the extent of Google’s data mining – including from your child’s school Gmail accounts. While Google then stated it no longer mined children’s Gmail or its product in use at MCPS, Apps for Education, for advertising purposes, it did not go as far as saying it would turn off the data mining capabilities, according to an article by Bryan Cunningham, at safegov.com.  What the parents here in Montgomery County would like is a law similar to the one enacted in California, that prohibits data mining absolutely, and protects our children’s privacy.

But the story that really caught my eye, given what goes on in our County, was one reported out of Clark County, Illinois.  There, the citizens actually had the chutzpah to stand up to their elected officials.  Yes, they actually asserted their legal rights, and as a result, the entire Clark County Park District Board was placed under a citizen’s arrest.  Why?  Because under the Illinois Open Meetings Act, the public has the right to address their elected officials at public meetings.  The citizens were savvy enough to videotape the meeting and post it on YouTube.  They called the police, calmly explained the situation, and the police arrived – and arrested the entire Board.  The hero of the hour was John Clark, a member of the ‘watchdog’ group Illinois Leaks.  Illinois Leaks, formerly known as ‘Edgar County Watchdogs’ has a wonderful website with posts from around Illinois.  According to the story on NBCChicago, which ran a few months ago, Mr. Clark and his colleagues sat through 2-1/2 hours of closed meeting.  Then, when the Board reconvened publicly, Mr. Clark and his colleagues were told that they could not speak to the Board members, a clear violation of Illinois’ Open Meetings Act.  They acted immediately.

Our Montgomery County Board of Education has violated the Maryland Open Meetings Act on multiple occasions.  None of us so far have had the nerve to call the police.  But soon maybe one of us will.

The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect formal positions adopted by the Federation.  To submit an 800-1,000 word column for consideration, please send an email attachment to montgomerycivic@yahoo.com.

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