Makal Matthews worked on prepared remarks last week to speak against “armed” school resource officers and other topics during a virtual Prince George’s County school board meeting.

The 15-year-old sophomore at Parkdale High School in Riverdale didn’t get that chance because board Chair Juanita Miller canceled the session to request an audit to assess alleged ethical issues among some board members.

“Since when do we end board meetings because we feel like?” Makal said Tuesday outside the Wayne K. Curry Administration Building in Largo. “What internal investigation needs to be done except for the policing and the arresting of children in schools? I can tell you exactly what goes on in school.”

Makal joined parents, education advocates and other residents at that location that houses the office of County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.

State law allows the county executive to appoint the chair and two other people to the school board. County Council can appoint one member and the remaining nine members are elected. The student member gets elected by county student government associations.

Krystal Oriadha, a local activist with PG Change Makers, leads a press conference outside the Wayne K. Curry Administration Building in Largo, Maryland, on Feb. 16. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

Advocates said Tuesday that Miller’s actions are an example of why a fully elected school board is necessary.

“When you have representatives that are not elected by the community, they do not answer to the community,” said Krystal Oriadha, co-founder of the local activist group PG Change Makers which organized the press conference. “We had items we have been advocating for months to be heard on this [Thursday meeting] agenda [and] would have been a resource to actually meet the needs of the community.”

About two hours before the press conference, Miller and Vice Chair Sonya Williams released a joint statement to reconvene meetings. Although Alsobrooks appointed Williams to second-in-command last month, she was elected in 2018.

“We are ready and willing to hold Board of Education meetings to review the operations of the school system,” they said. “However, the financial and legal implications of actions undertaken by several board members remain a serious concern.”

The angst began when Miller, who joined the board last month, wrote in a letter Feb. 8 to County Council chair Calvin Hawkins II to request an audit. The letter expressed concerns to reorganize administrative staff and a 7-5 board decision to hire a lobbyist for $10,000 per month. Miller abstained and the student member cannot vote on contractual and financial matters.

A Jan. 27 notice mentions the business “is not in good standing.”

Seven of the elected board members responded to the Feb. 8 letter with a letter of their own Friday to Maryland Superintendent Karen Salmon.

According to the letter, the members state Miller sent an email Wednesday directing staff to “cancel all board meetings tomorrow” for Thursday. The members claim canceling the meeting violates the 48-hour public notice requirement and the chair cannot “compel an audit in her capacity as board chair without board approval.”

Ten other allegations from misleading statements about board procedure to the posting of job announcements were summarized in the letter from board members Edward Burroughs, David Murray, Joshua Thomas, Shayla Adams-Stafford, Raaheela Ahmed, Belinda Queen and Kenneth Harris.

Bob Ross, president of the county’s NAACP, said these discussions could’ve been handle in a closed-door session.

Dannine Johnson, parent-teacher-student association president at Central High School in Capitol Heights, said the focus should be on when students can return back to the buildings.

“The number one concern for the board should be the safe reopening of schools,” she said. “Antics such as this are why we need a fully elected school board. We don’t need self-serving, appointed mouthpieces on the board. We need people who say they care about children … and be accountable to them.”

Prince George’s Schools CEO Monica Goldson plans to provide an update on reopening plans Wednesday.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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