Monthly Archives: June 2015

Pr. George’s schools programs trimmed to fit scaled-back budget

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A divided Prince George’s County Board of Education adopted a downsized $1.8 billion budget Thursday night, cutting programs that would have been funded by a proposed property-tax increase rejected by the County Council.

Schools chief Kevin Maxwell presented a revised budget to the board last week after County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) failed to generate the support needed for his ambitious plan to raise the tax rate 15 percent and increase school spending by $133 million.

The council instead approved a smaller tax increase that would produce about a quarter of the funding Maxwell says he needs to expand programs and boost student achievement.

Maxwell’s latest plan was approved by the school board on a 7-to-3 vote, with two abstentions. It maintains existing programs but does not include the rapid expansion he had sought for several initiatives. These included universal pre-kindergarten, dual-enrollment in high school and college courses, talented and gifted programs, digital literacy and the hiring of parent-school liaisons.

In addition, teachers will not receive increased retention pay or stipends for national board certification. Arts and foreign language programs will also not spread to all county schools, and an effort to provide free breakfast to all students will not come to fruition. >>> See changes here >>>(bbe491_8d2b4f2cb1e043f991186593dc93bca5)

“This is our best recommendation of how we move forward,” Maxwell said.

Board Chair Segun Eubanks said he was “satisfied, given our limitations, that we made the best choices we could make.”

But the cuts infuriated some board members, ratcheting up a controversy about funding schools designed specifically for first- and second-generation immigrants.

The budget preserves funding for two international high schools that would cater to English-language learners who are struggling in traditional classes. One would operate at a separate Bladensburg facility and the other within Largo High School.

The NAACP has criticized the schools, calling the initiatives segregation. Immigrant advocacy organizations such as CASA of Maryland say such schools exist across the country and provide options for a challenged population. PGCPS is not performing well because the work has not been about the students’ success, but rather it is about adults and their political agenda. Ejecting several staff members well connected to Mr. Rushern Baker III and Dr. Kevin Maxwell to “eat” from students reserve fund is not the answer!

Report was compiled By Arelis R. Hernández of the Washington Post and Reform Sasscer Movement contributed.  

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Parent advocates fight for longer recess times

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GREENBELT – A parent-led advocacy group has started an online petition requesting Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) to extend recess time for elementary schools.

Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools (PGCABS), a parent-led advocacy group out of Greenbelt, started a petition on Change.org demanding PGCPS change its policy after finding out their children receive as little as 15 minutes a day of outdoor recess time.

According to PGCPS policy document 6130 states, “Recess should be given for no less than 15 minutes per day and for no more than 30 minutes per day,” leaving it up to administrations at individual schools to pick an amount of time that works for their schedule, according to Keesha Bullock, director of communications for PGCPS.

The county-wide minimum time is one of the shortest in the area. According to Howard County Board of Education policy 9090, elementary school children must 30 minutes of recess daily. Montgomery County policy allows for 20-30 minutes of recess. Fairfax County extended its recess to 20 minutes daily last October and a cut to 15 minutes of recess in Washington D. C. received backlash from parents in 2013, forcing school officials to push the minimum recess time to 20 minutes, according to a Washington Post article.

PGCAB began meeting in March after Genevieve Demos Kelley noticed many parents had similar complaints about the school system. The group, Kelley said, was founded to help foster greater parent and teacher advocacy. She said they do not typically take a group stance on any one issue, but longer recess times was something everyone could agree on.

“Normally what we stand for is greater parent and teacher involvement, especially relating to policy decisions, and greater openness and responsiveness from the school system,” she said. “With the recess issue we found that there was basically a consensus among the parents that we spoke to. I have yet to meet a parent who thinks that 15 minutes of recess isn’t inadequate. So for this particular issue, we felt comfortable about getting behind it as a group.”

Danielle Celdran, a member of PGCABS, said she is passionate about increasing movement and recess time in her son’s school. Her son Danzson, she said, needs more time to enjoy being a child at school.

“He’s excited to learn and he wants to learn, but he also needs time for enrichment,” Celdran said. “I just wish we could add more time for kids to be kids.”

Often Danzson will say he is sick or he doesn’t want to go to school, Celdran said, because he is tired of rigorous learning every day. She said children need to have some control of their day, a chance to make their own games and make friends.

“It’s a good thing to see kids grow and socialize with each other on the playground. They need these tools to grow and be independent,” she said.

Celdran said the lack of recess was at the “top of the list” of reasons why she is pulling her child from public school at the end of the school year.

“We have decided to home school him this fall,” she said. “Hopefully by the time we come back we’ll see some changes.”

Kenneth Haines, the president of Prince George’s County Educators Association, said the association does not have an “official” position on recess times, but is aware of the lack of physical movement children participate in at school.

“We have been concerned about the movement to increase ‘rigor’ in pre-school and Kindergarten through the elimination of nap time by a previous Superintendent, Dr. Hornsby, as well as the decrease in physical activity due to increased academic instruction,” he wrote in an email. “Children need movement to remain in good physical health which we consider a pre-requisite for optimal learning.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics, in a policy statement published in 2013 recognized the importance of recess to the development of children.

“Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize,” according to the statement. “After recess, for children or after a corresponding break time for adolescents, students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively. In addition, recess helps young children to develop social skills that are otherwise not acquired in the more structured classroom environment.”

Kelley said she was not sure what a good compromise to extend recess times would be, but said she hopes the school system can find a solution.

“Maybe the answer will be to lengthen the school day a little bit, I don’t know,” she said.

Haines also said he was not sure of what cuts or changes need to be made to allow more physical activity time, but said extending the day would be a struggle.

“That would be a subject to be settled at the bargaining table, and I would maintain that requiring teachers to spend more time at the work site would necessitate a change in compensation as well. Our teachers are already stressed to the limits of human endurance, so staffing ratios would need to be improved. There would definitely be cost implications,” he said.

PGCPS declined to comment on whether a policy change on recess is a possibility, but stated the power to change it lies with the administration.

via sentinel 

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PGCPS Teen shot at Oxon Hill recreation center

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WASHINGTON — A Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) teenager was shot Thursday night at the Birchwood Community Park and Recreation Center in Oxon Hill, according to the Maryland-National Capital Park Police.

Officers were called to the recreation center around 9:15 p.m., and found the 16-year-old victim at the Oxon Hill Volunteer Fire Department, where he had gone for help.

The was shot after he encountered a group of people, whom he knew, on the grounds of the recreation center. The police say that the group spotted the boy and began following him. One of the suspects fired at the victim and hit him several times.

The teen was taken to a hospital, and is listed in good condition.

Police say they believe that a “days-old argument” between the victim and the group of suspects led to the shooting. The victim was unable to give investigators precise information about their identities.

Anyone with information about the shooting should call the Maryland-National Capital Park Police at 301-459-9088 or Crime Solvers at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

>>> Read more WJLA >>> WTOP

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Charter School Operators – Want taxpayer funds – just don’t want to explain how they spend it.

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Earlier this month, Sarah Darer Littman had a column in CT Newsjunkie reminding readers to be on the lookout for an attempt by the charter school industry and Governor Dannel Malloy to undermine efforts to hold charter school companies accountable for the public funds they get.

In an article entitled, Keep An Eye Out for Mischief in Implementer When It Comes to Transparency, education advocate and commentator Sarah Darer Littman warned about the charter school industry’s unwillingness to be transparent.  She wrote,“In her testimony to the Education Committee opposing SB 1096 in March, Achievement First President Dacia Toll complained that “it would be incredibly burdensome to CMOs, as FOIA compliance would significantly distract, undermine, and obstruct non-profit CMO resources and manpower from its most important work: providing high-quality support to charter schools, students and staff.”

In other words, Ms. Toll is more than happy to take taxpayer money, but would find it “incredibly burdensome” to comply with FOIA requests that come with being held accountable for it.

Meanwhile, Jeremiah Grace, the Connecticut Director for Northeast Charter School Networks complained in his testimony that “this bill requires background checks for school staff and boards. Backgrounds are a safety issue that we take extremely seriously. Most of our members have been running them for all staff already, and making sure it’s the law is an important step for our children. It is worth noting that requiring charters to wait for these to be completed before hiring someone subjects charters to more stringent rules than district schools for no reason.”

I’m not sure how Mr. Grace can make the statement that “charters are being subjected to more stringent rules than district schools for no reason” with a straight face. First, we have already seen evidence that the background check issue hasn’t been taken seriously. Second, to say that having to wait for those to be completed before hiring is more stringent than in the public schools is just plain bunkum. Just to teach an after-school creative writing class in a district school, I had to undergo a full background check, including fingerprinting, and I had to ensure the background check was completed before I could commence instruction.

With the General Assembly returning to the Capitol to adopt legislation needed to implement next year’s state budget, it would be nice to believe that Connecticut’s elected officials won’t fold under the pressure to back off the demand for transparency on the part of the privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools and their holding companies.

But knowing the propensity to do the wrong thing at times like this, Connecticut’s taxpayers should make a special effort to read Sarah Darer Littman’s piece and keep a careful eye on their state legislators in the week ahead.

You can read Littman’s piece at:

http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/keep_an_eye_out_for_mischief_in_implementer_when_it_comes_to_transparency/

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Ohio lawmakers scrap elected school boards and union contracts,

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In a bold move that has the potential for booting teachers unions from schools, stripping local voters of their authority over their school districts and turning operations over to for-profit companies, the Ohio legislature introduced and passed legislation in a matter of hours with no opportunity for the public to deliver opposition testimony.

The bill began innocuously in the House as an effort to help communities turn schools into comprehensive learning centers for the neighborhood. The bill passed from the House to the Senate a month ago with an overwhelming 92-6 vote.

Almost everyone liked it — until Wednesday.

The Ohio Federation of Teachers, one of the state’s unions representing teachers, was prepared to testify in favor of the bill as it headed for a committee vote.

But Melissa Cropper, president of the union, got wind of the amendment that could disenfranchise unions and voters and turn operations over to private interests.

When it came time for her to speak, she attempted to oppose the new provision, but was told that the amendment had not yet been offered, so she could not address it.

She sat down. The amendment was introduced and four men in line behind her who had traveled from Youngstown stepped up to give favorable testimony.

They were Youngstown State University president Jim Tressel; Youngstown Diocese Bishop George Murry — whose organization of parochial schools would become eligible to receive state payment for children attending his schools; local chamber of commerce President Thomas Humphries; and Connie Hathorn, a former Akron school administrator who — as superintendent of Youngstown City Schools — has failed to turn around the struggling school system and will quit to take a job in Arkansas at the end of the month.

The bill quickly passed out of committee, went to the Senate floor where it passed with no support from Democrats and some opposition from Republicans — 18-14 — moved late at night to the House for concurrence, and again passed with opposition from both sides and a vote of 55-40, far different from its initial support.

Within 12 hours of introduction, it went to Gov. John Kasich for his consideration.

His office was supportive.

“Children in chronically failing schools don’t deserve to be abandoned, they need our help, badly,” said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols. “These long overdue reforms to Ohio’s support system for failing schools will bring hope to these kids, parents and educators. And the governor applauds the local and state leaders who had the courage to stand up and help lead these needed changes.”

Youngstown first target

The discussion centered on Youngstown, which has been guided by an academic distress commission since 2010. The change has the potential to accelerate school choice, sending more children and public dollars to charter and private schools.

Lorain, the other Ohio school district in academic distress, must perform poorly another two years before it falls under the new provision, Ohio Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said.

Because the bill passed so quickly and state reports cards won’t include all the required information until next year, it is not clear how many other districts could be affected.

Last-minute maneuver

Sen. Peggy Lehner, a Kettering Republican and chair of the Senate Education Committee, was the one who attached the plan to the otherwise popular House Bill 70 Wednesday morning.

Teachers are decrying the bill’s privatization of the public education system.

Democrats voiced disapproval on the Senate floor, saying the change does little to address the root cause of social, economic and educational issues in the struggling Mahoning Valley town.

Youngstown has the highest poverty rate among Ohio’s 10 major cities and it is eighth in the nation for poverty among more than 550 ranked cities.

“It appears that it’s blaming the teachers, that it’s blaming the administrators in Youngstown, when we all know that the challenges in Ohio’s urban cores go beyond what a teacher or administrator can do,” said Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati.

“Haste makes waste and mistakes,” said Sen. Charletta Tavares of Columbus. She said this was a last-minute insertion in a bill designed to expand a Cincinnati-area program where community, health, private and public agencies offer wraparound services in schools to address the adverse impact of poverty.

“We are changing the state policy on education that applies to every school district in the state, not just Youngstown,” Sen. Michael Skindell of Lakewood said of the potential for the program to spread. “It seems to incentivize students to go from a failing public school to a failing charter school.”

He added: “Gosh, I wish we would be moving as fast on the failing charter schools in this state.”

The Ohio Department of Education, in conjunction with the governor’s office, has been working on this plan for months.

“I know that ODE has participated in discussions and in the drafting of the legislation,” said spokesman John Charlton, who noted the program is “somewhat unprecedented.”

Academic Distress Commissions have been in place since 2007, Charlton explained, but have not made significant progress in Youngstown.

“Bottom line,” Charlton said, “is that it is not fair to the students and parents who trust their schools to provide for their educations, the local educators and community leaders who have played by the system’s rules, or the communities whose futures depend on educated, skilled citizens. It’s time for a change. Kids in academically struggling schools can’t wait any longer; we need to make immediate improvements to the support system.”

Schools that receive three consecutive ‘Fs’ on state report cards will be taken over by the revamped academic distress commission, which consists of three members appointed by the state superintendent, another by the local mayor and a teacher selected by the local school board president.

The commission then hires a CEO, who doesn’t have to be an educator but must have “high-level management experience.” The CEO is paid up to $150,000 directly by the Ohio Department of Education.

The academic distress commission also can hire an “independent entity” — possibly a for-profit company — to oversee and promote local charter schools. The state’s private school voucher program also opens up to any student who would otherwise attend the academically distressed school district, regardless of how well the nearest school building in that system performs.

Schools can get out of academic distress if they earn a C grade on the report card and no more Fs in the next two years. Though overall grades aren’t out yet, 59 percent of all grades given last year to Ohio’s eight largest and poorest urban school districts were Fs.

When tested, students who live and attend public school in Youngstown rank low. One in seven students, however, attend school in neighboring suburbs through open enrollment, a process that skews the district’s performance.

Studies by the Mahoning County Educational Service Center and the Beacon Journal show that students who left Akron or Youngstown tended to be higher performing students. Students who lack personal transportation to attend a neighboring district generally are those who score lower and depress the district’s overall grade.

Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 ordlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow on Twitter: @DougLivingstonABJ.

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Hogan says no to Red Line, yes to Purple.

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Dashing Baltimore’s hopes for a long-anticipated east-west light rail line to improve its transit network, Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday that he will not build the $2.9 billion Red Line across the city.

“We are not opposed to public transportation. We are opposed to wasteful boondoggles,” the governor said. “The Red Line as currently proposed is not the best way to bring jobs and opportunity to the city.”

But Hogan, making his first public appearance since announcing Monday that he has cancer, offered mass-transit advocates a limited victory by giving conditional approval to construction of a slimmed-down version of the Purple Line light rail project in the Washington suburbs. He said the state would reduce its up-front share of construction costs from almost $700 million to $168 million, while requiring Prince George’s and Montgomery counties to shoulder more of the burden.

>>> read more

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March to the Dominican Republic Embassy in Pictures

On Monday June 22, 2015 in Washington, the Association of Haitian Professionals (AHP) called for a meeting followed by a march to the Embassy of the Dominican Republic  to demand an end to the deportations and expulsions taking place in the Dominican Republic, as a result of a 2013 ruling by Dominican Courts that stripped citizenship from an estimated 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent.

The AHP claims there is increasing anti-Haitian sentiment in the Dominican Republic resulting from violence against anyone with “Haitian facial features” – citing the example of the lynching of Henry “Tulile” Jean Claude in February 2015.

“Tulile”, a shoe-shiner, was found hanging in a Santiago public square on February 10, 2015, his hands and feet bound. The lynching, which was widely condemned, was blamed on a group of Dominican nationalists who had called for the deportation of Haitians living in their country and burned a Haitian flag on February 9, 2015.

According to Washington Post, in fiery and exuberant speeches, speakers with bullhorns denounced the Dominican policy as ethnic cleansing and racist suppression. Some evoked the 1937 massacre of tens of thousands of dark or “Haitian-looking” inhabitants ordered by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. Among the speakers in the rally was  Hon. Denita Veras, a Dominican-born member of the Prince George’s County Council who denounced the new nationality policy as “state-sanctioned social cleansing.” Victor R. Ramirez (D-Prince George’s), a Maryland state senator born in El Salvador also attended the rally.

Without further ado, we present to you the March to the Dominican Republic Embassy in Pictures!

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Former Western principal pleads guilty to stealing student funds

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A former principal at Western High School pleaded guilty to stealing more than $50,000 from school system funds intended to pay for student activities like the prom.

Alisha R. Trusty, 38, pleaded guilty in Baltimore Circuit Court to felony theft, according to a statement from the state persecutor’s office Tuesday.

Trusty used the student activity fund debit card and checks between February of 2011 and January of 2014 to buy $25,000 worth of personal items and more to pay bills, personal legal fees, and a 19-day hotel stay in New Jersey, according to the statement of facts in the case.

“Public School principals are trusted and relied on by the school system, students and parents to always act in the best interests of their students,” said State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt in a statement Tuesday. “Betrayal of that trust by a principal who steals student activity funds is a particularly reprehensible offense that cannot be tolerated.”

Trusty’s attorney, James Rhodes, did not immediately respond for a request for comment Tuesday morning.

The state prosecutor’s office began investigating Trusty after receiving a complaint from the Baltimore City Public School’s Office of Legal Counsel. A school system audit had found “numerous irregularities” in the student activities account.

Prosecutors said she used the school debit card to buy $25,000-worth of personal items. She spent $3,600 to pay personal legal bills. Public records show Trusty has had several judgments and liens filed against her in recent years, including one case in which she was ordered to pay about $11,000 to an auto finance company, Regional Acceptance Corp.

She spent another $1,275 of the school’s funds to pay a Baltimore Gas and Electric bill, prosecutors said. Trusty also used $2,818 for a 19-day at a New Jersey hotel stay between June and July 2013. She was on medical leave from the school system at the time.

Trusty twice wrote checks for $2,450 and then cashed them for personal use, once on Nov. 29, 2013 and again on Jan. 6, 2014.

Prosecutors said she withdrew $5,380 through “cash back” transactions, using the school debit card more than 60 times.

She also sought and received a reimbursement of $10,875.97 from the school system for trip expenses even though she had already charged the costs to the student activity fund account.

A city schools spokeswoman did not immediately respond for a request for comment Tuesday morning.

Western is the oldest all-girls public school in the nation, and regularly places all its students in college. It was designated a National Blue Ribbon School several years agio. Its graduates include Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, State Del. Jill P. Carter, and former state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

Trusty served as principal at Western from August 2010 through August of 2014.

Her sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 6., 2015.

-via Baltimore sun

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As opposition to Confederate flag grows, Maryland’s Hogan joins in

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The Maryland version of a proposed license plate honoring the Sons of Confederate Veterans is displayed during a public hearing in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 21, 1999. (Steve Helber/AP)

Maryland efforts to eliminate symbols that many people perceive as racist gained momentum Tuesday, with Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signaling plans to end the use of the Confederate battle flag on vehicle tags and a progressive group starting a petition to take down other reminders of past inequality.

“Governor Hogan is against the use of the Confederate flag on Maryland license plates,” spokesman Doug Mayer said in a statement. “We are working with the [Maryland Vehicle Administration] and the Attorney General to address this issue as soon as possible.”

The announcement came hours after MoveOn.org launched a petition calling on Maryland leaders to remove what organizers described as symbols of racial inequality from the state capitol and the University of Maryland.

It followed a decision by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to phase out a state-sponsored license plate featuring an image of the Confederate flag, and an announcement by mega-retailers Amazon.com and Wal-Mart to stop selling Confederate-themed items.

Opposition to the flag and related objects has increased nationwide since last week’s mass shooting at a historic African American church in Charleston, S.C. Authorities say the suspect, 21-year-old high school dropout Dylann Roof, declared his hatred for African Americans before opening fire. The Justice Department is investigating the shooting as a hate crime.

The MoveOn.org petition is demanding the removal of a statue outside the Annapolis statehouse honoring Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, who wrote the majority opinion in the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision that said blacks born in the United States could not be U.S. citizens.

The petition also calls for U-Md. to rename its football stadium, which bears the moniker of former university president Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd, a segregationist. It says Byrd was responsible for the race-based rejection of Thurgood Marshall, who became the Supreme Court’s first African American justice, from the U-Md. law school.

“Structures erected in honor of Roger Taney and Curley Byrd are symbols of racial hatred with no place in our government,” the petition says, “and . . . it’s time to put these symbols behind us, accelerate our healing, and have Maryland embrace unity and respect for human rights rather than division and white supremacy.”

The petition had more than 275 signatures on Tuesday night.

MoveOn.org added a second petition late Tuesday calling for Capital One bank, soda maker Pepsi and the Under Armour apparel company to cut financial ties to U-Md. until the school decides to rename Byrd Stadium.

 “When opening up a bank account, buying athletic apparel, or choosing a soda, people do not want to feel like they are helping a company to further finance institutional racism, so join us in this steadfast and unwavering demand: Say bye-bye to Curley, and do it in a hurry,” the petition said.

Colin Byrd, an African American U-Md. graduate who created the petitions, led an earlier campaign to convince the school to rename Byrd Stadium. The student government endorsed the proposal in a 13-to-2-to-2 vote in April, and university president Wallace Loh sent the matter to the school’s naming committee for review.

U-Md. spokesman Brian Ullman said Wednesday that the committee, which includes faculty, staff and student representatives, has not yet met. He added that “ultimate authority for the naming of all campus buildings rests with the University System of Maryland Board of Regents.”

Both Maryland and Virginia had been under court order to permit images of the Confederate flag on their license plates. But that changed last week, after the Supreme Court ruled that Texas could reject a license-plate design requested by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The decision does not force states to change their policies on specialty tags, but it allows them to reinstate prior restrictions on Confederate symbols that were overturned.

In addition to the statement by Hogan’s spokesman Tuesday, some 30 state lawmakers sent a letter to Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn and Milton Chaffee, head of the state Motor Vehicle Administration, asking them to discontinue Confederate-themed license plates.

Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) did not sign the letter but supports banning the Confederate flag from the state’s license plates, Busch spokeswoman Alexandra Hughes said. Hughes said the speaker could not be reached for comment about the petition.

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

via Washington Post

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>>Sign the MoveOn.org petition here<<

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