Cathy Allen, 64
Vice chair, board of education
DeForest Rathbone, 90
Retired federal government engineer
1. Do you think the local school system is handling reopening plans and online learning properly during the coronavirus pandemic?
Cathy Allen: The conditions faced due to the pandemic are unprecedented. The system has been working overtime to address virtual learning needs including software, hardware, access and funding. Schoology, the software currently in use, is a significant improvement over Edgenuity, the program used in the spring. The complexities of reopening extend well beyond the classroom as consideration is given to social distancing, scheduling of classes and students, bus transportation, food services, cleaning of surfaces and many other issues. The superintendent monitors the county’s COVID-19 data daily and has been in consultation with Dr. Meena Brewster, St. Mary’s health officer, regarding the return to school. I believe that bringing students in incrementally will allow us to address areas of high need without overwhelming the system. We have followed the guidelines of both the CDC and the governor and Superintendent Scott Smith is prepared to pause if circumstances warrant. All things considered, I believe the current approach is sound and keeps health and safety of all as a priority.
DeForest Rathbone: Under the current constraints, I believe they are doing as well as possible. I trust that they will be working out the difficulties of remote learning for its potential use in a hybrid system that may be needed to provide for both student safety and effective learning opportunities for all students in the future.
2. Is the school system properly addressing equity?
Allen: I believe the school system is properly addressing the issue of equity. The Board adopted a policy on educational equity last December which formalized work that was ongoing.
Data is used not only to help focus attention on students’ needs but also to ensure that every student is afforded high quality instruction and an educational experience free from barriers. Equity is a work in progress but we will continue to view all we do through the lens of equity.
Rathbone: It depends what is meant by the term “equity.” If it is equal opportunity, I believe the school system currently is totally committed and aggressively pursuing that goal. But if it means equal outcome, that seems to be a theoretical but virtually impossible goal considering the many constraints impeding diverse individuals. Such as adverse peer pressure, health, family and community environments, physical and mental capabilities, and inherited cultural traditions.
3. Do you see drug and alcohol use among students as a pervasive problem today?
Allen: I do not see a pervasive problem of drug and alcohol use among students. I have been in our schools at every level and in every school throughout my tenure on the Board of Education as well as when my children were in school. I’ve interacted with students during and after school at a variety of events. The board receives reports on incidents involving students which can involve emergencies, accidents, arrests or other issues. I can say unequivocally that there is not a pervasive problem. When staff have concerns regarding a student’s possible use of drugs or alcohol, parents are notified and staff work with the family as appropriate to address the issue. The approach follows the law and I feel is the best one for the student and family.
Rathbone: From my long background in the parents’ drug prevention movement dating back to the Nancy Reagan era, and my continuing involvement with student drug use and prevention issues including as a six-year member of the St. Mary’s County Health Department’s Behavioral Health group, I know the depth and destructive impact addictive substances have on students and school systems throughout the entire nation.
I am a knowledgeable advocate for non-punitive random health screening of students for exposure to drug addiction that includes mandatory counseling and treatment for those found exposed to the potentially deadly disease of drug addiction. It is legal, effective and popular in the thousands of schools which utilize this compassionate strategy that virtually eliminates student drug use among the tested kids.
4. Why should voters choose you instead of your opponent?
Allen: I believe the experience I bring to the Board is valuable. My knowledge of policy, laws, roles, responsibilities, programs, and technology allow me to continue to work on behalf of students, parents, staff, and the St. Mary’s County community without missing a step.
My work at the state level on behalf of our school board and the Maryland Association of Boards of Education ensure that our community’s voice is heard. I hope that voters will allow me the honor of continuing to serve our community on the St. Mary’s board of education.
Rathbone: There is very little chance that I could defeat an attractive, intelligent, astute, effective and popular incumbent such as Cathy Allen. Thus, my primary expectation is that by my candidacy, I might influence the school superintendent and the school board members to give fair consideration to adopting the humanitarian strategy of random student health screening for detecting and treating students’ addictive, unhealthy and dangerous substance use. Its widespread use has also demonstrated its effectiveness as a prevention of violence and disrupted learning such as has resulted from student substance abuse which has existed for decades as documented in bi-annual student surveys.