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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 03/16/2010

Principal scolds parents

By Valerie Strauss

The principal of top-ranked Whitman High School in Montgomery County issued a letter saying that he was pulling the plug on a proposal to erect a cell tower on school grounds because super-aggressive opposition by some parents was fracturing the community.

Principal Alan Goodwin wrote:

I am a strong advocate for civic discourse and for helping our students see a democratic process take place on controversial issues; however, we have several ways to educate our students, and watching portions of the Whitman community lose their collective sense of purpose and commitment to work together to educate our students has become the greater concern.” (The full letter is below.)

Others in the Whitman community said, however, that school authorities felt that some parents and nearby residents who opposed the construction of a 120-foot T-Mobile cell tower had used scare tactics about the possible effects of it on human health, and had been overly aggressively in their effort. T-Mobile would have paid the school system $24,000 a year for the right to put up the tower.

Goodwn wrote further:

“I am instead asking the Whitman community to step back from this discussion and to refocus and reenergize our commitment to the partnerships we already have in our schools and to enhance them. Let the adult energies move back to volunteering in the classroom, on the playgrounds, in booster organizations, to sharing professional expertise as guest lecturers, to attending extracurricular activities, to helping our students in numerous ways.”

Student journalists at Whitman’s newspaper, The Black & White, supported the tower, noting that while the debate over the effect of radio-frequency waves on human health is “confusing,” the fact is this:

“If we look around us, there are radio wave emissions everywhere, from gigantic radio towers to TV sets. In the big scheme, one weak cell tower would be relatively harmless. On the flip side, a cellphone tower would bring better service to the area and money to MCPS. Ten other schools in MCPS have already installed cell towers on schools.”

That this debate devolved into something damaging to the school community is a bad reflection on those adults who could not find a better way to express their opinions.

I would say that it would have been a great lesson for students to see a real civic debate take place, but in this case, it sounds like the kids weren’t the ones who needed it.

Here’s Goodwin's letter:

"For the past several weeks, segments of the Whitman community have been embroiled in discussions regarding the possible placement of a cell tower by T-Mobile on Whitman’s school grounds. This possibility emerged when I allowed T-Mobile to examine the school grounds to test the viability of such a structure. I did this because for the past several years, I have had some community members express dismay over the lack of service in certain sections of the area.

"After T-Mobile made a proposal, I started the established steps that other schools have followed which essentially placed a tremendous burden on our PTSA leadership. The procedure calls for the PTSA to provide open communication about the issue to the school community and to forward emerging opinions to me and ultimately to the MCPS central office. I want to publicly thank them for assuming a challenging task.

"The PTSA leadership and I have met several times lately to share the input that we have received, and it is strongly evident that the discussion about the cell tower is causing a great tension among neighbors as persons weigh in with opinions and concerns. The PTSA has done a remarkable job of soliciting and posting both Pro and Con reactions despite not having a range of resources to assist them.

"As the controversy has moved beyond the boundaries of the Whitman community, it has complicated the PTSA’s intent to facilitate a forum for input and a recommendation that accurately reflects its community’s input.

"I am a strong advocate for civic discourse and for helping our students see a democratic process take place on controversial issues; however, we have several ways to educate our students, and watching portions of the Whitman community lose their collective sense of purpose and commitment to work together to educate our students has become the greater concern.

"The possible placement of a cell tower is not worth fracturing the community with such discord, and I have concluded it is not in Whitman’s best interest to move forward with placing the cell tower on our campus. Continuing the process will only add to the schism. For that reason, I have asked the PTSA, and they have agreed, to cease the process and cancel Tuesday’s meeting.

"Although this may understandably disappoint some members who wanted to share their views and vote on Tuesday at the PTSA meeting, I am instead asking the Whitman community to step back from this discussion and to refocus and reenergize our commitment to the partnerships we already have in our schools and to enhance them.

"Let the adult energies move back to volunteering in the classroom, on the playgrounds, in booster organizations, to sharing professional expertise as guest lecturers, to attending extracurricular activities, to helping our students in numerous ways.

"Let the Whitman community join together to continue to maintain what Bethesda Magazine once called the “Whitman Mystique,” a community dedicated to nurturing and promoting educational excellence. Thank you.

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | March 16, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Montgomery County Public Schools  | Tags:  Montgomery County Public Schools  
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Comments

NOT TRUE, there were no scare tactics. The problem was that the PTSA censored all anti cell tower information, and would only allow pro cell tower information to be placed on the school site. In addition, the Black and White school newspaper was and is controlled by pro tower PTSA parents. Also, the entire community was not informed of the proposed tower, there were many neighborhoods left in the dark. In the end, the cell tower company even resorted to fraud: see: http://whitmanhighcelltower.blogspot.com/2010/03/fraudulent-photosimulation.html. Enough was enough.

Posted by: wwreader | March 16, 2010 12:51 AM | Report abuse

Valerie,
There is a story here, but this ain't it!

Democracy? Hmm..Let's take a look at the leases for cell towers that have been placed on school property in the last few years.

The leases show a signature box for the BOARD OF EDUCATION. Yet, the Board of Education NEVER votes on the placement of these towers. Instead, the signature of Jerry Weast is shown under the box for the BOARD OF EDUCATION.

News flash - Jerry Weast is only the Superintendent. He is not the Board of Education.

When did the Board of Education EVER vote to place a cell tower on school property? When did the Board of Education authorize the Superintendent to sign on their behalf?

Posted by: jzsartucci | March 16, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

The school system does recieve income for the cell towers but where does this money go? What is it used for? Is there a line item on the budget designated for cell tower income?

No, the income from cell towers are put into the real estate fund--does this help the overall students? If it does, it needs to be explained to the general public.

The 24K is split into thirds and the school only sees a portion of it. This money is GIVEN to the school with no stipulations and is also at the discretion of the principal. There are no checks and balances in place to make sure schools are using the money for the good of the school.

T-mobile is notorious for their tactics in duping schools and communities about how great they are but once the monopole's are erected, T-mobile could care less.

Posted by: concernedmominmd | March 16, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Valerie,

As a follow up I have posted 4 MCPS leases for cell towers on school land.

If Principal Goodwin wants students to learn about democracy then he should have them research the statutory powers of the Superintendent as compared to the statutory powers of the elected Board of Education.

A great research paper would be on the question: Is a Maryland Superintendent legally empowered to sign leases of public school land on behalf of the Board of Education?

Answering that question would REALLY teach students about democracy and public process.

Here are 4 MCPS-Cell Tower leases:

http://parentscoalitionmc.blogspot.com/2010/03/why-is-weast-signing-for-board-on-cell.html

When the democratic process is not followed, chaos can result. And that may just be what happened at Whitman HS.

Posted by: jzsartucci | March 16, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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