Dal­las Dance retweet causes up­roar

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Ann Miller Dr. Dance: It has been four days that your con­tro­ver­sial retweet has been up which many find to be of­fen­sive and in­ap­pro­pri­ate. It has caused di­vi­sion and in­cited fear. Please re­move it and make a public apol­ogy to our stu­dents, staff, and p

Iam a mem­ber of the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion of Baltimore County who voted against Dal­las Dance’s em­ploy­ment con­tract re­newal ear­lier this year be­cause I think his job per­for­mance war­ranted it. As a fair per­son, I was on the fence about whether Mr. Dance’s re­cent con­tro­ver­sial retweet and his ex­pla­na­tion of it should be cause for his dis­missal.

On Nov. 8, Mr. Dance retweeted a post from for­mer Mont­gomery County School su­per­in­ten­dent Joshua Starr. It read: “Ed­u­ca­tors: to­mor­row pls show your mus­lim, black, latino, jewish, disabled, or just non-white St’s, that you love them and will pro­tect them!” Mr. Dance later ex­plained in a state­ment that he al­ways leads “from an eq­uity lens with an in­tense fo­cus on all stu­dent pop­u­la­tions and en­sur­ing they feel wel­come and sup­ported. Ed­u­ca­tion is not void of pol­i­tics and dur­ing the last two years, our coun­try has had one of the most di­vi­sive cam­paigns in mod­ern his­tory. Com­ments were made that dis­en­fran­chised sev­eral groups of stu­dents we serve in Baltimore County Public Schools. As our na­tion moves for­ward, it is our col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity to make sure all stu­dents feel safe and know we are their ad­vo­cates.”

Ev­ery­one is hy­per-sen­si­tive on is­sues of race, and the week af­ter one of the most con­tentious elec­tion cam­paigns this na­tion has ever wit­nessed is not the time for a so­cial me­dia post laden with both racial and po­lit­i­cal un­der­tones. It was very poor judg­ment.

In a let­ter to Mr. Dance, I out­lined my ini­tial is­sues with the post, chief among them his sin­gling out and ex­clu­sion of white stu­dents and the in­ter­jec­tion of his per­sonal po­lit­i­cal views.

I was as­ton­ished to find that sev­eral days later, Mr. Dance had still not taken down the post. In fact, he had dou­bled­down his ef­forts to jus­tify it. So I sent him an email to ask him to re­move it. His re­ply was what con­vinced me he should re­sign or be ter­mi­nated.

Had Mr. Dance of his own ac­cord rec­og­nized his poor judg­ment from the start and the di­vi­sive­ness it was caus­ing, taken the post down and apol­o­gized, I would not be call­ing for his res­ig­na­tion.

Had this in­ci­dent oc­curred in a vac­uum, by a su­per­in­ten­dent with whom I oth­er­wise had no is­sues, I would not be call­ing for his res­ig­na­tion. How­ever, Mr. Dance can’t keep him­self out of con­tro­versy. He re­quired a waiver in or­der to be hired by BCPS, he now has two ethics vi­o­la­tions un­der his belt, the only ev­i­dence of suc­cess of his ex­pen­sive STAT pro­gram is fall­ing PARCC scores, his pri­or­i­ti­za­tion of our crum­bling fa­cil­i­ties is so ne­glect­ful that the Board of Public Works felt ob­li­gated to re­quire im­me­di­ate air con­di­tion­ing re­lief in our schools, and now this retweet.

We like to say that we hold our lead­ers to a higher stan­dard of con­duct. But the re­al­ity is that it is a big deal to fire some­one in a po­si­tion of au­thor­ity. We don’t do it un­less we have more than enough rea­son. The cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect of his many con­tro­ver­sies and poor per­for­mance has given us more than enough rea­son.

Even if Mr. Dance feels his post was jus­ti­fied, he should rec­og­nize the di­vi­sion this is caus­ing in our school sys­tem, county and be­yond. He should have taken it down, even if he chose not to apol­o­gize. Ape­ti­tion call­ing for Mr. Dance’s ter­mi­na­tion has gar­nered over 2,400 sig­na­tures in a mat­ter of a few days.

I have had BCPS parents tell me their stu­dent was bul­lied be­cause they sup­ported Don­ald Trump, and I have had nu­mer­ous BCPS teach­ers tell me they were of­fended by the retweet. A sim­ple Google search will bring up dis­turb­ing videos of stu­dents be­ing vi­ciously and vi­o­lently at­tacked in school due to their sup­port for Mr. Trump. There are white Clin­ton sup­port­ers and black Trump sup­port­ers. So the whole truth is that jus­ti­fi­ca­tions made on the ba­sis of de­mo­graph­ics are bi­ased by one’s po­lit­i­cal views. The very ex­is­tence of this coun­ty­wide ar­gu­ment is ev­i­dent of the di­vi­sive na­ture of the retweet. It is caus­ing di­vi­sion and racial ten­sions, when we need heal­ing and unity. To date, Mr. Dance has still not re­moved the post, made on his “of­fi­cial Twit­ter ac­count for Su­per­in­ten­dent of BCPS.” His hubris is get­ting in the way of his judg­ment.

I held back on call­ing for his res­ig­na­tion in part be­cause I didn’t want to join the cho­rus of peo­ple who treat racial is­sues as though we are a na­tion of thought po­licers. Racism it­self is not il­le­gal, just im­moral, un­less one is us­ing it to vi­o­late the rights of oth­ers, such as life, lib­erty or their liveli­hood. But no one is call­ing for Mr. Dance’s ar­rest, and we are faced with de­cid­ing whether his ac­tion war­rants his dis­missal or some lesser sanc­tion.

We have board pol­icy that de­fines a code of con­duct and ac­cept­able use of so­cial me­dia. Mr. Dance has used these poli­cies to ter­mi­nate teach­ers’ em­ploy­ment. As a BCPS em­ployee, Mr. Dance is also sub­ject to board pol­icy. If we fail to en­force board pol­icy with re­gard to our su­per­in­ten­dent, are those poli­cies moot? Does it give teach­ers who have been ter­mi­nated un­der them a case against BCPS?

The Board of Ed­u­ca­tion of Baltimore County has had no di­rec­tion yet from its lead­er­ship. The board should ask the state su­per­in­ten­dent of schools, who has the au­thor­ity to re­move a county su­per­in­ten­dent, to ask for his vol­un­tary res­ig­na­tion or ter­mi­nate him. If the lo­cal board does not act, the public should ask the state su­per­in­ten­dent to act.

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