- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Three school board members in Prince George's County have filed an appeal with the state Board of Education against their colleagues who voted to exclude them from a meeting on Thursday.
Doyle Niemann of Mount Rainier, Bernard Phifer of Hillcrest Heights and Catherine Smith of Cheverly say the vote to remove them from the meeting kept them from exercising their duties as board members.
"It reflects the dysfunctional state of affairs on the board," Mr. Niemann said.
Five board members voted to remove the others from Thursday night's closed executive session because the board intended to discuss the decision by the state board to reinstate Superintendent Iris T. Metts. The board fired Mrs. Metts Feb. 2, and an injunction issued by the county Circuit Court said the firing was illegal because she had not been given a 45-day notice.
Mr. Niemann and Mr. Phifer who supported Mrs. Metts were handed memos by board Chairman Kenneth E. Johnson that said it would be a conflict of interest for them to participate in the discussions and were asked to leave, which they did. Mrs. Smith, who also supported Mrs. Metts, was not at the meeting.
Denying the members the right to participate in discussions binding the entire board was "unconscionable and undemocratic," the three board members say in their appeal. They are asking the state board to rule the action as improper.
James Henderson of Seabrook did not attend that meeting but said board members had been completely justified in asking Mr. Niemann and Mr. Phifer to leave.
"When you are talking about legal strategy, you do not want the person who is opposed to you in the same room," Mr. Henderson said. "Mr. Niemann is a lawyer. He should know that."
Ronald Peiffer, assistant superintendent for the Maryland State Department of Education, said its attorney had received the appeal, but it was too early to say what action the board would take.
He said it seemed unusual that some board members should vote to keep others out of a meeting. "I have never heard of this happening before," he said.
Meanwhile, the injunction preventing Mrs. Metts' removal which expired over the weekend was not extended after the state issued its opinion on why it reinstated the superintendent on Feb. 12.
Lawyers for Mrs. Metts, her three proponents on the board and the members who voted to fire her met with the judge yesterday morning after a previous extension of the injunction expired. But Mr. Niemann said there was a consensus that an extension was not needed at this time.
The injunction was a precautionary measure to keep the board from placing Mrs. Metts on administrative leave, Mr. Niemann said.
"The state's opinion made it clear that if the board put her on administrative leave, it would not permit it," he said.


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