Thursday, October 23, 2014

if there's one person you should vote for this year, it's jill ortman-fouse

I started getting involved in Montgomery County school issues about a year and a half ago, and through that I got to know Jill Ortman-Fouse, who's one of the hardest-working people I have the privilege to know. She's been a tireless advocate for Montgomery County schools, not just for her own children, but for the thousands of kids and families who don't get a voice in school matters.

Montgomery County is one of the richest counties in the United States, but we also have growing poverty, and more students on free and reduced lunch than the DC Public Schools have students. MCPS is becoming increasingly segregated by race and income, and the achievement gap remains a persistent issue. While our school system as a whole has a great reputation, our schools aren't serving all students as well as they could be.

And that's a huge threat to our community's future success and competitiveness. Schools not only affect our property values, the stability of your neighborhood, and the strength of our local economy. The public schools also consume half of Montgomery County's nearly $5 billion annual budget. They're worth fighting for.

And that's what Jill has done. She successfully convinced her neighbors to forego private school and take a chance on a neighborhood school in Silver Spring many saw as undesirable. Meanwhile, she reached out to families already in the school to resurrect the PTA and make it a force for positive change. Her efforts helped revitalize that school, which is once again the cornerstone of its community. More recently, Jill has been an advocate for school issues throughout East County, working with parents and communities beyond her own to get the resources our students desperately need.

I've watched Jill at house parties and campaign events and school events and candidate forums, and I've consistently been blown away by her resolve in fighting for a more equitable school system. She has integrity and willingness to stick to her principles, something our Board of Education desperately needs more of. Jill knows East County schools and the challenges they face because she's a parent here, and I know she'll hold the Board of Education and MCPS accountable for our needs.

Today's the first day of early voting in Montgomery County, and if you're heading to the polls, I'd like to ask you a favor and support my friend Jill Ortman-Fouse for the Board of Education. Whether or not you have kids, this might be the most important vote you make this election.

If you'd like to learn more about Jill, you can visit her website or check out her list of endorsements, which include the Washington Post, the Gazette, not to mention One Montgomery, your advocate for strong schools and strong communities in Montgomery County.

You should also definitely check out One Montgomery's endorsements for the Board of Education, including Kristin Trible for District 1, Laurie Halverson for District 3, and Mike Durso for District 5, all of whom have been strong advocates for our schools. I'm very proud to vote for them as well.


David S. Fishback said...

One Montgomery appears to be a progressive group. That is why its endorsement of Laurie Halverson for the Board of Education position currently held by Pat O’Neill is perplexing. According to her website (
Ms. Halverson has been endorsed by Martha Schaerr, who lost in her 2010 challenge to BOE member Mike Durso after the public was made aware of her deep involvement with right-wing groups opposing health education curriculum proposals (now implemented) that present the mainstream medical and mental health care professional associations' conclusions and teachings about sexual orientation and gender identity. Since it is sometimes unfair to judge a candidate based on who endorses her or him, I did a little more research and discovered that Ms. Halverson opposed the Board's decision in 2013 to eliminate the flyer distribution program in secondary schools, after a homophobic group, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays, abused the program and the Board discovered that the program was rarely used in the secondary schools. Ms. O’Neill, in contrast, has been a constant supporter of LGBT rights and sensible education policies in her years on the Board of Education.

The connection to Ms. Schaerr may be significant. Ms. Schaerr is now running for the House of Delegates as a Republican in District 19. The Washington Post, In its decision to endorse all the Democratic candidates in District 19 (even though the Post explicitly stated it was trying to find Republicans to endorse in order to, in the Post’s view, create more balance in the General Assembly), it explicitly noted that Ms. Schaerr “doesn’t talk about her past work to overturn the state’s marriage-equality law in 2011 and 2012. Nor does she mention her 2007 push to include in the county’s sex education curriculum the erroneous information that homosexuality is a ‘choice.’”…/7d48f766-564f-11e4-ba4b-f63…

When Ms. Schaerr unsuccessfully ran for the Board of Education in 2010, she sought to cover up her agenda, but when her activities were revealed, they justly became a focus of the discussion of her candidacy.…/09292010/montlet185257_32548.php…/…/10/26/AR2010102606016.html
(Her husband, not so incidentally, left his high-powered D.C. law firm to represent Utah and, later, Idaho in those states’ attempts to defend their anti-civil marriage equality laws.…/schaerr-leaves-winston-to-r… )

Laurie Halverson said...

I am responding to Mr. Fishback's uninformed remarks. First of all, I know Martha as a MCCPTA leader and we have worked together as PTA leaders and I had never talked to her about the things you are mentioning until this rumor started spreading. She assures me that the reasons for her advocacy on the health curriculum years ago were not for the reasons you state here. I don't want to speak on her behalf on the specifics and I think Martha wants to move forward. I have no issues myself with the health and sex ed curriculum and have never advocated on this with my over 10 years of volunteer leadership with the community, but I have advocated with success on many issues such as better quality portables, bullying, grading and reporting and other issues of interested to parents. No more chairs falling through portable classroom floors because of my advocacy!

On the flyer issue, I advocated on behalf of nonprofit organizations who would no longer have multicultural reach without flyers in schools. I absolutely did not approve of the PFOX flyer that was very inappropriate and I chose not to mention them in my testimony because groups like this love it when you mention their name. (When a certain Baptist Church announced they were coming to Walter Johnson, I was behind the scenes as MCCPTA Health/ Safety Chair helping the schools and MCPS work together to handle their protest.) The Board chose to eliminate the flyer policy instead of revise it to allow principal discretion on which flyers can go out. Many school districts have policies that allow discretion, so why didn't the BOE have the strength to stand up to PFOX and say no to them but still allow other flyers? I felt Pat O'Neill did not do enough to help the families of our county reach needed resources. Because of the BOE's reactionary response to end all flyers, the system of communication with families was damaged at at critical time when families are needing more help than ever.

I am a parent in touch with the community and I ask for your vote on November 4th. My website is and you can view my 4 minute video.

Laurie Halverson
Candidate for Board of Education

David S. Fishback said...

Dear Ms. Halverson:

I am very pleased, and relieved, to read that you "have no issue" with the Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality curriculum and that you "did not approve of the PFOX flyer." And I am glad that you helped regarding the Westboro Baptist Church demonstration outside Walt Whitman High School.

But I feel I do need to explain why your statement that the Board of Education could easily have halted the hurtful PFOX flyer distribution by giving principals discretion is incorrect. As the discussion and press reports at the time made it clear, a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit provided that schools could not have general discretion to disapprove flyers when such distribution programs existed, because a "quasi-public forum" had been created. My own belief, which I stated publicly to the Board of Education, was that MCPS could have argued that flyers (like those of PFOX) that asserted things that were in direct conflict with mainstream medical conclusions could have been rejected as dangerous to student health without running afoul of the federal court decision; but PFOX most certainly would have brought a lawsuit. I believe the suit could have been won by MCPS, but it would have led to significant legal expenses, which MCPS did not want to incur. Schools do not, in light of that federal court decision, have the blanket discretion you suggest. It was the fear of expensive litigation that is, in my view, the answer to your question, "why didn't the BOE have the strength to stand up to PFOX and say no to them but still allow other flyers?"

It might have been useful if, in your letter to the Board, you had urged resistance to the PFOX flyers as a better solution than an ending of the distribution program in the secondary schools.

Pat O'Neill, as chair of the Board's Policy Committee, ordered a survey of the amount of use that was made of the flyer distribution program; that survey revealed that the program was rarely used in the middle and high schools, so the impact of taking the step the Board decided upon was minimal. The Board, it seems to me, decided that the most cost-effective way to deal with the hurtful PFOX flyers was to end the program at the secondary schools. While I might have, instead, taken the approach that would have resulted in expensive litigation, the Board's decision was certainly not unreasonable in light of what it discovered in its survey.

All that said, the main takeaway from our exchange seems to be that you do not associate yourself with Ms. Schaerr's public actions and positions regarding the improvements we now have in our health education curriculum regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. I am glad that you have taken this opportunity to clarify that.

David S. Fishback