Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Students win right to write

Richard Montgomery’s school newspaper allowed to print allegations against principal, who hopes to return this week

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Student journalists at Richard Montgomery High School have won approval to publish an article detailing allegations against the school’s principal, after an attempt by the assistant principal in charge to prevent them.

Valerie Soon and Upasana Kaku, news editors at The Tide and authors of the article, were reporting the story last week that detailed moonlighting allegations against Principal Moreno E. Carrasco and school reaction, but were stopped by Assistant Principal Veronica McCall.

That’s when Soon and three reporters went to see Community Superintendent Sherry Liebes at her office. Liebes initially told students she would support McCall’s decision to delay publishing the article, according to Soon.

‘‘We sent the article to Ms. McCall on Thursday, but she decided to censor it, so we went to Dr. Liebes,” Soon said, adding that McCall suggested publishing the article once the investigation is complete.

Carrasco is facing allegations that he was conducting private seminars and workshops that conflicted with his public duties. He has been out on medical leave since April 14, shortly after the allegations surfaced earlier this month.

After Liebes discussed the students’ right to publish the article with McCall Friday and again Monday, Liebes said the two decided to reverse the earlier decision.

‘‘We felt there was an issue of free speech, so she decided to let the students run it and I supported that,” Liebes said.

Kaku said the principal has the right to look at articles before they are published, but not every story is reviewed. In this case, the students sent the article to McCall because they knew it was controversial. Kaku said the newspaper is published seven times a year, typically once a month.

‘‘I think it’s important that the RM community is going to have access to such important information,” Soon said, adding that she hopes it will put rumors to rest about the investigation.

McCall said she still disagrees with printing the article and thinks it is a ‘‘disruption to the instructional environment” with year-end exams coming up.

‘‘I am not in support of publishing the article in The Tide newspaper,” she said. ‘‘I want the students and staff to be focused on education.”

The school system is currently investigating whether Carrasco was ‘‘possibly conducting private business on MCPS time,” according to Brian K. Edwards, chief of staff to Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, in a previous interview with The Gazette.

Carrasco wrote in an e-mail to The Gazette Tuesday that he hopes to return to school by the end of this week

‘‘I appreciate the vote [of] confidence and the overwhelming support I have received from the RM community,” he wrote.

According to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation, the business Executive Coaching Services LLC is listed under Carrasco’s home address in Germantown, but is registered to Jeanette Plew, who has been identified as Carrasco’s wife.

Carrasco also faces allegations of plagiarism from a competitor.

A lawyer for the Breakthrough Coach, an educational consulting firm, said Tuesday the company is considering suing Carrasco for allegedly taking its methods and materials.

Carrasco said in his e-mail that the allegations are false.

‘‘No one has ever brought any charges of plagiarism against me,” he wrote. ‘‘Anything published to that effect is false.”

The investigation and the alleged plagiarism has been discussed on the Richard Montgomery PTSA’s e-mail forum and at a PTSA meeting April 15.

The PTSA voted on April 15 to put out a statement on its e-mail list in support of the school and its administration.

‘‘The Richard Montgomery High School (RMHS) Parent-Teacher Student Association (PTSA) expresses its firm confidence in the achievements, direction, compassion, and integrity of the RMHS Administration, as evidenced by its successful efforts to improve academic excellence, garnering national recognition for the superior accomplishments of both students and faculty, unifying a diverse community, and reflecting the pride and goals of the parents, teachers, and students of an outstanding institution,” the statement reads.

PTSA President Kate Savage encouraged parents in the e-mail to write letters to the Board of Education and Weast in support of Carrasco.

Julie Good, Richard Montgomery High School Rocket Corps Coordinator, wrote a letter to Weast in support of Carrasco shortly after the allegations surfaced.

‘‘After being in the work force as a teacher and a tax lobbyist for [35] years, I can honestly say that Mr. [Carrasco] is one of the few people I have worked with, or for, who has earned my utmost admiration and respect,” she wrote.