- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2002

The chairman of the Prince George's County school board is asking national civil rights groups for help in opposing state legislation that would curtail the board's authority.
"This is a national issue, and we need to bring it to everyone's attention," said board Chairman Kenneth E. Johnson, who has sent letters to the county and national chapters of the NAACP, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition in Chicago and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta. "All these organizations have a vested interest in seeing that the rights of elected members are not violated."
Mr. Johnson has asked the civil rights groups for support in a legal challenge to the Maryland General Assembly's emergency legislation that would expand state control of the county school board and replace its elected members with appointed ones.
The legislation "would usurp the rights of the citizens of Prince George's County who elected the current board members to a four-year term, arbitrarily deprive the citizens the benefit of an elected school board, and deprive sitting board members of their elected offices without proper due process," Mr. Johnson said in his letters to the groups.
He asked the groups if they would represent the school board in court or provide amicus filings.
Mr. Johnson said he had spoken with representatives of the groups, but refused to say what their response had been.
Edythe Flemings Hall, president of the Prince George's County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she had received Mr. Johnson's letter and was consulting with her group's legal staff.
"We believe that citizens have the right to elect their board members," Miss Hall said. "We need to see whether the legislation violates the rights of voters and the Constitution."
The school board already has authorized Mr. Johnson to find a constitutional lawyer to represent them. Sources said the most likely choice is Stan Brown, a Prince George's County lawyer.
State lawmakers have pointed to the school board's dispute with county schools Superintendent Iris T. Metts as a primary reason for seeking to take control of the panel. The board fired Mrs. Metts Feb. 2, but a county judge reinstated her, declaring the board's action illegal.
Thursday night, the board voted in closed session to appeal the judge's decision in circuit court. Mr. Johnson said the board would file the appeal before a March 15 deadline.
One board member said they expect the Maryland Association of Boards of Education and school boards in other counties to join their legal challenge.
The Maryland State Board of Education ruled that only the state schools superintendent Nancy L. Grasmick has the right to fire the county schools superintendent.
Also on Thursday, the board voted to oppose an extension of the injunction staying Mrs. Metts' firing.
The appeal for an extension will be heard Monday.
Margie Hyslop contributed to this report.

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