Thursday, May 17, 2007

Call for Thomas’ resignation was justified; now remove Hall

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This article responds to the individuals who questioned why members of People for Change called for the resignation of Nathaniel Thomas from the school board before the investigative report was presented.

People for Change is a group of leaders, education advocates, entrepreneurs, parents and watchdogs for [Prince George’s] County. We are no-nonsense, proactive, intuitive and discerning when it comes to demanding that a government serves its constituents, employs and dispatches high moral standards, and exemplifies honesty and integrity. We therefore have a civic duty to speak out and be outraged when a member or leader of our government fails to meet the standards of our expectations. We called for Thomas to resign prior to the release of the report because we believed that Nathaniel’s behavior went beyond impropriety or blunder.

Thomas is an elected school board member responsible for a $1.8 billion budget, making and enforcing polices for 200-plus schools, principals, teachers, administrators and students. Regardless to what the report would later reveal, in our opinion, Thomas should have stepped off the airplane into a press conference where he resigned or sought leave of absence until he was cleared. His behavior was inappropriate, and he crossed the line.

What this situation has revealed is that we have serious flaws in how we monitor the ethical code of conduct for students who serve on our boards and committees. In that light, we are calling for the immediate removal of Leslie Hall, the student school board member, who serves on the board. His behavior and conduct is not acceptable as a representative on our school board. Having him linger on the board with suspicions and assumptions without them being dispelled will hinder the current board from moving forward in a productive manner. Also, leaving Hall on the board sends the wrong message to the student government body that may elect someone of like mind and behavior to replace him.

What this situation has also revealed is that we have serious flaws in how parents’ concerns are documented and handled in the school system. This flaw must be addressed quickly. We must also ensure that before teachers, principals, regional directors and administrators are hired that we solicit feedback from their communities and parent body and also perform an adequate background check.

What kind of epidemic do we have in Prince George’s? When the status quo remained silent in the face of this investigation, who among us was the voice of reason? When will we demand that leaders live up to the expectation of the office they represent? While the status quo remained on the sideline and waited for the investigation, our children remained in danger. We need school board members and other leaders to quickly react and respond to protect children and remember who they represent. How many others like Thomas are still lurking in our school system?

To all the politicians and ‘‘want-to-be” politicians, education groups, pastors, NAACP, nonprofit entities, chambers of commerce and PTA, your voices were not heard in a timely manner or not at all. While our school system remains in a state of emergency, you sit back and allow a school board member to act in this manner.

To our board members and superintendent who acted swiftly to ban Thomas from schools and call for an immediate investigation, we thank you.

This county needs real leaders with real voices — no matter what the issues may be. Removing Thomas from the board is a forgone conclusion, and People for Change will continue to be vocal on issues that matter.

Sandra Pruitt, Mitchellville; Terrence Lewis, Upper Marlboro; Zalee Harris, Temple Hills; Jerry McLaurin, Fort Washington; Bill Jones, Bowie; Harold Waterman, Glendale; Kevin Martin, Upper Marlboro, and Crystal Williams, Accokeek, People for Change in Prince George’s County