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Maryland Health Officials Lower Testing Age for Lead Poisoning


With lead poisoning still the biggest environmental health hazard for children in Maryland, state health officials are requiring children as young as 1 and 2 years old to be tested.

The state previously recommended testing at 6 years old.

The change was made after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued a proclamation on Oct. 26 calling for “all Maryland children to be tested at ages 1 and 2, no matter where they live,” under the new Lead Testing Targeting Plan for Childhood Lead. That plan is a step further from existing lead poisoning prevention initiatives under which children living only in “at risk” ZIP codes or those enrolled in Medicaid were tested.

Lois Wessel, nurse practitioner at the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment at Georgetown University in Washington, said that the main reason why the age of testing was lowered was to ensure early earlier detection and treatment.

“We want to screen them early on to see if they have elevated levels,” she said. “By the time they are five or six, they have a high lead level. There would already be neurological damage.”

Mid-Atlantic is one of the two designated centers to implement the program. The other is the Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital in Cheverly, Md.

Exposure to lead is still the most significant and widespread environmental threat to children’s health in Maryland, although preventive steps have lowered lead exposure and lead poisoning, according to a report by the Maryland Department of Environment released in July.

“The biggest source of lead poisoning is homes built before the ‘70s,” Wessel pointed out.

In addition, the paint and plastic in children’s toys could contain lead.

One- and 2-year-old children are at a higher risk, “because they can put things in their mouths,” she said. Children’s bodies are smaller, so a little bit of lead could cause significant neurological problems, she said.

Early symptoms could include developmental delays, learning difficulties, weight loss, hearing loss and abdominal pain, Wessel added.

“When the child is one or two we can perhaps find the source of the lead in the home and eliminate that source,” she said.

Lead could also be present in residential backyards and playgrounds that had old houses or structures with the paint chipped off contaminating the surrounding soil.

“If you’re growing vegetables or something in the soil, that can absorb some of the lead and then certainly there’s lead in water pipes,” Wessel said. She added that nearly 20 percent of lead poisoning was caused by lead in old plumbing from the 1930s or earlier.

“We live in a very old part of the country where many of the old copper pipes were soldered with lead,” she said. “There’s still household ducts that come from lead and lead paint chips because our houses are so old.”

In fact, the lead from gasoline and lead paint is still a major problem around highways and urban settings, she said.

Last year, 527,304 children were tested statewide, of which 1.8 percent were found to have lead levels between 5 to 9 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. About 0.3 percent of children had levels higher than 10.

Howard Haft, deputy secretary for public health services at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore, said that lead levels as low as between 5 and 9 micrograms “have important negative effects on children’s cognitive ability on their brain function, their ability to be successful and as fully bright and as able as they should be.”

Another concern is identifying children coming in from other parts of world where they may have been exposed to lead, Haft said.

“Some candies that come from other parts of the world like Mexico can be a source as well,” Wessel said.

Haft said that the new state program is aimed at ensuring that not only are children in high-density older housing areas tested, but also children in all the other houses in Maryland get the same medical scrutiny.

“We’ve gotten rid of 95 or 98 percent of lead but there’s still some around,” he said.

By Sharadha Kalyanam

Despite Confederate Plate Recall, Flag Enthusiast Remains Dedicated


Flag day meant a special celebration for Jay Barringer as a child. His parents would humor him as he decorated his front lawn with flags for all of his neighbors in Bahama, North Carolina, to see.

The tradition for Barringer lives on. But now, his collection includes several controversial flags.

The 51-year-old, who has lived in Eldersburg, Maryland, for almost 30 years, rotates his growing collection of flags on two flag poles that hang from his front porch.

Sometimes, he celebrates his neighbor from Taiwan with a Taiwanese flag, or the veteran who lives nearby with a Marine Corps flag. Other days, he coordinates the flags with important days in history.

On a recent Monday in October, an American flag and the third and last national flag of the Confederacy frame his front porch.

But while the commander of the Maryland Sons of Confederate Veterans flies his flags freely at home, the flag displayed on his license plate will be banned beginning this Tuesday.

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh announced in mid-October that all Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates featuring the Confederate flag will be recalled per a federal judge’s ruling in October.

The recall makes Maryland the third state to ban the license plates. Texas was the first state to ban them, in June, followed by Virginia in August.

The wording featuring the organization’s name on the license plates will stay the same, but the new law requires owners of the plates to trade them in for new ones, without Confederate flags, at no cost. The Maryland Motor Vehicles Administration will notify owners about the recall via letters, giving them 30 days to replace their tags before a tag order and repossession fee is enforced.

Buel Young, public information officer for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, said a total of 173 Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates exist within the state.

“This flag is a painful symbol that divides us, conjuring images of hate and subjugation,” Frosh said in a statement on Oct. 15. “It has no place in any contemporary government use.”

Barringer, who owns three sets of the license plates and several Confederate flags, said it impedes on his and the Sons of Confederate Veterans members’ right to commemorate their history.

“This is an affront to our history and honorable men in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the soldiers, sailors and marines who served,” said Barringer, noting that the two Confederate admirals were both Marylanders. “We have a heritage and history, too, like all of us do, and we should be able to commemorate our history just like anyone else.”

Barringer works in database administration, has the slight drawl of a southern gentleman (with the manners and wardrobe to match), and hails from a family of tobacco farmers.

He first became interested in his heritage after seeing an editorial about the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which requires members to be related to a member of the Confederate army in the Civil War. He wondered whether his family had a connection.

Barringer joined the group, which celebrates the Confederate ancestry with events and color guards, after finding he was related to Rufus Clay Barringer, a Confederate brigadier.

He also found a distant cousin who served in the North Carolina infantry before he was fatally injured in 1864 at just 18 years old.

His cousin, he said, worked on a tobacco farm before going to the war and was not a slave owner, contrary to many people’s beliefs about Confederate soldiers.

He was the kind of soldier that made up the bulk of the Confederate Army, said Barringer.

“I’m not going to say slavery didn’t have anything to do with that war. The war was a complex issue. Slavery was an issue,” Barringer said.

But it wasn’t the only issue, he said, and removing statues, flags and license plates does not remove what happened in the past.

“History has got warts. You learn from it,” said Barringer, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans for the past 13 years. “You don’t erase it.”

Chris Haley, Maryland State Archives’ director of the study of the legacy of slavery in Maryland, agreed.

Like Barringer, Haley looked into his genealogy to find he is related to a Confederate veteran.

His great-great-great-grandfather John W. Fulcher was a Confederate colonel from Georgia. Another great-grandfather twice removed was a slave.

“From a historical point of view, (the flag) should not be dissolved. It should not be eradicated or ripped apart because historically it’s a point of our history that should be discussed,” said Haley.

But from his personal point of view as a black man, Haley said the flag makes him uneasy.

“I never feel comfortable seeing the Confederate flag displayed on someone’s truck or in someone’s front yard,” Haley said.

While he doesn’t ascribe the flag to a symbol of hate, Haley said, the flag was onced used during the Civil War to distinguish the Confederate troops from those in the Union Army. It was a time of rebellion, Haley said, where the South wanted to divide itself from the rest of the country and also protect the lucrative movement that was slavery.

President of the Maryland State Conference NAACP Gerald Stansbury said the Confederate flag is painful for so many African Americans to see.

The license plate recall should have happened a long time ago, he said.

“Because of what the flag has been used for, it’s enough to have (the license plates) phased out. There are other ways to commemorate the history of people that fought in those wars,” said Stansbury. “I appreciate what (the) Maryland (government) has done.”

The flag’s reputation

Barringer, who owns several Confederate flags, said he has never had any problems with neighbors and passersby who see his flags or license plates, but this November, he will turn in his plates regardless.

He blames recent scrutiny surrounding Confederate monuments and flags on the shooting that happened at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, this past June, leaving nine black parishioners dead.

Photographs of suspect Dylann Roof with the Confederate battle flag surfaced shortly after the shooting, along with a manifesto revealing Roof’s goal to start a race war.

Barringer said as a Christian, he was horrified.

“The whole organization was sickened. (Roof) is just the type of filth and malevolent individual who doesn’t understand the symbol at all,” Barringer said.

Barringer, who expressed concern for the families, said he also feared that Roof’s actions would be affiliated with the flag and his organization, once again giving it a bad reputation.

“(The Sons of Confederate Veterans) don’t tolerate racism and bigotry,” said Barringer, who holds the highest position in the Maryland division of the organization, where he oversees membership and communications.

“Too many people are buying into organizations that inappropriately represent that flag, like the (Klu Klux) Klan and the Neo Nazis — malevolent organizations that are truly racist,” he said.

In the business of Confederate flags

The discontinued plates may hold some value. In August, a Maryland Sons of Confederate Veterans vintage plate sold for $250, and in September, a replica sold for $127.50.

In July, shortly after the shooting in Charleston, Gov. Nikki Haley signed a law to remove a Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House grounds.

Ryan Wyatt, owner of family business CRW Flags in Glen Burnie, Maryland, said there was a surge in demand in Maryland for Confederate flags following Gov. Haley’s decision.

“We noticed everybody under the sun was getting (flags),” said Wyatt, 55, who likened the sudden increase in demand comparable to the demand for American flags after 9/11.

Most of Wyatt’s new customers had never owned a flag before, Wyatt said. They just wanted the flag as a piece of history.

“We’d ask (our customers) how they were going to display them, and they would say ‘Well I don’t want to fly it, but nobody’s going to tell me I can’t’,” Wyatt said.

Seventy-seven-year-old veteran and former teacher R. Shelby Clendaniel of Cambridge, Maryland, had never owned a Confederate flag before this year, but just months ago, he bought a Confederate bumper sticker and stuck it on the bottom-right bumper of his pick-up truck.

In a conversation in Annapolis on the morning of Nov. 4, Clendaniel called the sticker “a knee jerk reaction to a reaction,” a defense of his freedom of expression

“The flag does not carry that emotional symbol of hate,” Clendaniel said. “It is within a person’s mind.”

Hours later, the Confederate flag sticker on the back of Clendaniel’s truck was gone.

By Brittany Britto

Gov. Hogan Requests State Dept. Resettle Syrians Elsewhere




Ahmad Beeter

Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday called for the federal government to stop resettling Syrian refugees in Maryland until it can prove they are not a threat to public safety. 

“As governor of Maryland, the safety and security of Marylanders remains my first priority,” Hogan, R, said in a statement. 
“Following the terrorist attacks on Paris just four days ago, and after careful consideration, I am now requesting that federal authorities cease any additional settlements of refugees from Syria in Maryland until the U.S. government can provide appropriate assurances that refugees from Syria pose no threat to public safety,” Hogan said. 
Since Jan. 1, 2014, 38 Syrian refugees were resettled in Maryland — including 26 in Baltimore, one in Riverdale, one in Severna Park and 10 in Silver Spring — according to the U.S. Department of State. 
“We need to take a hard look at who we are providing refuge to in this country, and a strict vetting process needs to be put into place to ensure that we prioritize those Christians and Yazidis who are escaping religious persecution in the Middle East,” said U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville. 
Nationwide, since Jan. 1, 2014, there were 2,078 Syrian refugees resettled across the United States; of those, 1,943 were Sunni Muslims, 57 were identified as Muslims, 37 were identified as Christians, 11 as Shiite Muslim, and the remainder as atheists, Catholics, Baha’i, Jehovah’s Witnesses, no religion, other religion, orthodox and Zoroastrian, according to the State Department. 
“With the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, and Maryland’s neighbor, Washington, D.C., being named a prime target of ISIS, we cannot afford to make any more mistakes in our foreign policy,” Harris said.
“Denying safety to people based solely on their faith or country of origin is intolerant. Intolerance is a national Republican value, not a Maryland value,” said Pat Murray, executive director for the Maryland Democratic Party, in a statement. 
Hogan joined a number of governors — including at least one Democrat — and GOP presidential nominees who have come out against the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. 
In September, President Barack Obama announced that over the next year he wanted to accept at least 10,000 refugees from Syria, according to White House officials. 
Similar to other nations, Syria has “good people and bad people” and the U.S. “has to do what it takes” to ensure that refugees entering the U.S. are “good people,” said Ahmad Beetar, a Syrian immigrant. “Generalizing and saying all Syrians are bad is not good.” 
Originally from war-torn Aleppo in Syria, Beetar, 33, worked as a journalist. Before coming to the U.S. he refused positions from both the Syrian government and work as a “press release writer” for an al-Qaeda affiliate.
Beetar said that people who refuse to align with political groups in Syria have “no future.” The U.S. can help those who refuse political affiliation and other vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly, people with disabilities and women who could potentially become female captives.  
Beetar came to Maryland in 2013 through a fellowship with the U.S. Department of State. Beetar said he was allowed to stay in America because it was too unsafe for him to return to Syria. This July, he moved to Washington, D.C. 
Beetar said he understands the quick response of American officials to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris as “people tend to have some strong reaction against that.” Their response is acceptable if it only last for a few weeks, but they should review the situation and “not base decisions just on emotions,” he said. 
“Not all Syrians are terrorists or can be affected by the jihadist ideology,” said Beetar. “When I was in Syria I had no future. The U.S. gave me a chance to remain a human being without having to kill or be killed.” 
Since 1990, about 2 million refugees have entered the U.S., with approximately 400,000 from the Middle East. In that time, no acts of terrorism in America have involved refugees, according to John Stevenson, a senior researcher for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism program at the University of Maryland, College Park.
The federal government is responsible for vetting refugees, Stevenson said. State governors, in turn, are responsible for resettlement. 
“Refugees do not radicalize as long as they have stable settlement rights,” Stevenson said. “For the governors to make it more difficult for them to resettle it’s creating the very conditions that could lead to radicalization.”
Refugees accepted to the U.S. will undergo “rigorous screening and security checks,” Obama said Monday, during a news conference from the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey. 
“We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves — that’s what they’re fleeing,” Obama said. “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values.”
By Naomi Eide
Capital News Service

Maryland Squirrel Pulled From Endangered List Following Conservation Action

While some squirrel species can be found hiding in neighborhood bushes or rummaging through city trash cans, the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel largely stays in rural, woodland habitats.
Deforestation and hunting throughout the first half of the 20th century pushed the squirrel toward extinction and helped land it on the federal endangered species list. On Monday—more than 40 years after the squirrel’s addition—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will remove it from that list.
The delisting comes at a time when the species, which is twice as large as the common gray squirrel, has a population size and range greatly above its historic lows. In 1967, the squirrel’s range had been narrowed 90 percent, from the whole of the Delmarva Peninsula to four counties in Maryland. Research from the Wildlife Service estimates there are now 17,000 to 20,000 squirrels across 10 counties and 135,000 acres of forest in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
The population bounceback stems largely from interstate and federal conservation efforts. The Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species Program, for example, monitors, protects and rehabilitates at-risk species. For the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel, translocating individuals from areas of higher to lower squirrel density gave rise to 11 new, thriving populations. 
“It takes a lot of time and effort to get to the point where you can take something off the list,” said Thomas Miller, a ranger at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. “It’s a very big deal for us when it happens.”
Blackwater is based in Dorchester County, Maryland, home to one of the region’s largest fox squirrel populations. As such, the refuge helped contribute squirrels for translocation projects, according to Miller.
Blackwater also bought additional woodland in part to increase protected squirrel habitat, Miller said. “It’s kind of a major species that we feel ownership for in this refuge.”
“We are proud to be a major partner in the recovery of the Delmarva fox squirrel after 40 years of conservation efforts,” Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton said in a press release issued Friday. “This success story would not have happened without the cooperation of federal and state agencies and conservation groups, as well as the private property owners of Maryland and Delaware who provided habitat for the endangered species on their own land.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, endangered species are those at risk for extinction across a “significant portion” of their range. When establishing the endangered species list, the Wildlife Service looks at factors such as habitat destruction, disease, predation and effects of human intervention, and reviews the status of each listed species every five years.
Reviews in 2007 and 2012 concluded reclassification and ultimately delisting of the squirrel was warranted. After completing the regulatory steps, which include opening the decision to public and scientific comments and revisions, the Wildlife Service had the green light for removal.
“The natural world is amazingly resilient, especially when a broad collection of partners works together to help it,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, D-Md., a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in the press release. “Today’s announcement is a major victory for the Endangered Species Act and the Delmarva fox squirrel itself, and much credit is due to the federal biologists who have worked for decades to rebuild the squirrel’s populations…”
By Jacob Bell
Capital News Service


Commission Calls for Independent Panel to Redistrict Maryland


The Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission voted on Tuesday to recommend the establishment of an independent panel to address congressional and legislative voting districts.

The commission called on the panel to create “congruence,” “contiguity” and “compactness” in the new voting districts, along with upholding equal population and federal voting laws.

Nine of the 11 members of the commission approved the final recommendations. Delegate Alonzo Washington, D-Prince George’s, was the only member of the commission to vote against the official recommendations. Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore City, was not present at the meeting to vote.

Washington called the committee’s work a “good effort,” but said he is skeptical whether the recommendations could “actually get done” in Annapolis. He also said there was not enough time to fully flesh out other possible ideas.

Commission member Christopher Summers, founder and president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, echoed Washington in wishing for more time.

This process was like “opening the fire hydrant and trying to take a drink from it,” Summers said. With the expanded time, Summers said, he would have liked to have outside experts come in from other states that have successfully redistricted, such as California and Iowa.

If the legislature adopted the commission’s recommendations, Summers said, it would still be a “monumental shift.”

At a news conference on Tuesday, announcing the opening of the reopening of the Maryland State Police Annapolis Barrack, Gov. Larry Hogan, R, said that people want to see nonpartisan redistricting.

“There’s a handful of professional politicians who want to keep things the way that they are. We’re the most gerrymandered state in the country. We’re hoping that they’ll listen to some reasoning,” Hogan said. “I’m looking forward to getting the report from the commission, or maybe we’ll be able to talk to the (Senate President) when he realizes I’ll be the guy drawing the districts. He might change his position.”

The commission held five public regional meetings in different parts of Maryland, hearing from legislators and residents about their ideas on how to reform voting districts.

Hogan in August signed an executive order creating the commission to address gerrymandering in both legislative and congressional voting districts.

In Maryland, redistricting occurs every 10 years following the results of the U.S. census. In 2012, Gov. Martin O’Malley, D, redrew the 6th congressional district, taking away conservative votes in order to oust a veteran Republican.

Registered Democrats outweigh registered Republicans in Maryland more than 2-to-1, according to eligible active voter data from the 2014 gubernatorial election.

Seven of the state’s eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are held by Democrats.

When redistricting, according to Maryland’s constitution, the governor is required to hold public hearings to create a legislative district plan. The governor’s plan automatically takes effect 45 days into the legislative session unless the General Assembly drafts its own plan.

The Maryland constitution requires 47 legislative districts, with one senator and three delegates from each. It also requires that the districts must have roughly equal population, and be compact and contiguous.

The current “system is corrupt. Its broken.” Summers said. “I still believe we’re in a unique period of time in Maryland history to do something bold.”

By Naomi Eide
Capital News Service

(CNS correspondent Brittany Britto contributed to this report.)

More People Are Leaving Maryland Than Coming


For as long as the United States has existed, people have moved between states in search of opportunity.

In 2013 slightly more people left Maryland than moved to the state, according to a Capital News Service analysis of IRS tax filing data that tracks migration.

Maryland saw a net reduction in population of less than one percent — .26 percent — between 2012 and 2013, CNS found.

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People left Alaska at a higher rate than any other state – a 1.22 percent net loss — followed by New York, with a .72 percent loss.

North Dakota saw the largest gain, with a 1.63 percent net increase in population, followed by Colorado, with a 0.91 percent increase.

Economists said the change in Maryland’s population between 2012 and 2013 was in line with fluctuations seen in years past.

Eleven other states saw a higher rate of net population loss between 2012 and 2013 when compared with Maryland.

Neighbors Virginia and Washington, D.C., had slightly lower rates of net population loss. Daraius Irani, chief economist at Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute, said it’s common for people to move between the three states.

In 2013, Charles County had Maryland’s largest net percentage increase in population and Baltimore City had the largest net decrease.

Charles County’s access to water and proximity to D.C. could explain its popularity, Irani said. Families often leave Baltimore for the suburbs when their children are in fourth grade, giving them a year to transition before starting middle school, he said.

Commission Works to Remediate Gerrymandering in Maryland


The Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission met Tuesday to craft recommendations for ways to fix gerrymandering in Maryland, focusing on establishing an independent group to redistrict both congressional and legislative districts.

The commission wrote intricate rules to limit partisan influence and ensure independence of the new panel, and is requiring it to apply state law to congressional redistricting.

When drawing congressional boundaries in the current system, Maryland’s governor leads the process, which follows a more general federal standard. These rules mandate that districts must be drawn with equal populations and in compliance with the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in the voting process.

Members of Gov. Hogan's redistricting reform commission discuss the shape of a new independent process.

Members of Gov. Hogan’s redistricting reform commission discuss the shape of a new independent process.

But when drawing state legislative boundaries, under Maryland law, districts must be contiguous and compact, “with due regard for natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions”.

In the past, minority lawmakers and political groups have complained that minority populations are split up and grouped together to help keep incumbent Democrats in power.

The commission held five public regional meetings in different parts of Maryland, hearing from legislators and residents about their ideas on how to reform voting districts.

Hogan in August signed an executive order creating the commission to address gerrymandering in both legislative and congressional voting districts.

“Maryland is home to some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country, a distinction that we should not be proud of,” Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said in a statement Aug. 6. “My administration’s goal is to reform this process and put Maryland’s redistricting process on a new path toward transparency, fair representation, and election integrity.”

Commission member Delegate Jason Buckel, R-Allegany, said during an Oct. 20 commission meeting that it is “pretty apparent that the status quo is unacceptable.”

To form the new, nine-member independent group, the commission is recommending that one judge from the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland and two from the Maryland Circuit Courts will be chosen at random to select the members of the group.

To apply to serve as member of this independent group, applicants must have been a Maryland resident for the past five years, they cannot have switched party lines in the past five years and they cannot have run for legislative or congressional office in the past five years.

The judges will choose 30 people — 10 Democrats, 10 Republicans and 10 independents from the pool of applicants — to possibly serve on the work group.

From those 30, nine individuals will be randomly chosen, with three from each political affiliation, to become members of the independent redistricting panel.

Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a member of the redistricting commission, said that focusing on the concept of creating an independent group to redistrict Maryland is improbable, as too many legislative stakeholders have an impact, such as the governor’s role of appointing judges.

Members of an “independent redistricting commission are as far from independent as the legislators are,” said Conway, D-Baltimore City.

Conway also said that the commission should do something to fix congressional districts but avoid the legislative districts.

In Maryland, redistricting occurs every 10 years following the results of the U.S. census. In 2012, Gov. Martin O’Malley, D, redrew the 6th congressional district, taking away conservative votes in order to oust a veteran Republican.

Registered Democrats outweigh registered Republicans in Maryland more than 2-to-1, according to eligible active voter data from the 2014 gubernatorial election.

Seven of the state’s eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are held by Democrats.

When redistricting, according to Maryland’s constitution, the governor is required to hold public hearings to create a legislative district plan. The governor’s plan automatically takes effect 45 days into the legislative session unless the General Assembly drafts its own plan.

The Maryland constitution requires 47 legislative districts, with one senator and three delegates from each. It also requires that the districts must have roughly equal population, compact and contiguous.

Elbridge James of the NAACP said that voting districts in Maryland disenfranchise people of color because they lack equal representation.

“If the governor does not get it right, he does a disservice and disadvantage to all of our communities,” James said. “I need to have voices heard and redistricting allows voices to be heard.”

Senator Anthony Muse, D-Prince George’s, called past redistricting purely gerrymandering where the district maps did not accurately represent the people in their jurisdiction and said that there was not enough minority representation at both the congressional and legislative level.

The commission must submit a report to the governor, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s, and House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, by Nov. 3., and is slated to be formally disbanded on Nov. 8, 2016.

By Naomi Eide
Capital News Service

Ouch: State’s Public Schools have Miles to Go on College Readiness


A majority of Maryland high school students failed to hit grade-level targets for college readiness, including alarmingly few black and Hispanic students, according to new, statewide exams scores released Tuesday by the state Board of Education.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, or PARCC, given to high school, middle and elementary students, has drawn controversy nationwide and across the state, because, some say, it detracts from classroom learning time.

State officials released spring test results for high school students, who took three exams: English 10, algebra I and algebra II.

The results alarmed board members, with less than one-third of students meeting or exceeding the grade level standard in algebra I; nearly 40 percent meeting grade-level expectations for English; and only 20 percent passing the Algebra II exam.

Board members had discussed the likelihood of statewide scores lower than other standardized test scores in previous years, but most expressed shock during the score’s presentation.

“It still looks pretty horrific on paper … we didn’t expect them to be this low either,” said Michele Jenkins Guyton, a first-year school board member. “We need to look at whether indeed, as an educational system in Maryland, we are under-educating 70 percent of our students, and I don’t believe that is really the case.”

The scores’ release came shortly after Gov. Larry Hogan announced early Tuesday his inaugural appointments to a new 19-member task force that is charged with reviewing statewide public school assessments.

The Commission to Review Maryland’s Use of Assessments and Testing in Public Schools, which Hogan created in May, will be headed by Christopher Berry, a Frederick County resident and principal of James Hubert Blake High School in Montgomery County.

“When schools and teachers are forced to overemphasize standardized tests in the classroom, they deprive students of the kind of quality education they deserve,” Hogan said in a news release. “It is clear to most Marylanders that we are over-testing our students and the process needs to be greatly improved.”

Scores indicate racial disparities among high school students’ results

Teachers administered the statewide PARCC exams for the first time in the spring at all but seven Maryland schools, according to a Maryland Department of Education staff report.

Though high school students, as a whole, fared poorly on all three sections, the initial reports indicated large percentages of Hispanic and African-American students did not meet grade-level standards.

“My other concerns are the minorities and how poorly they scored,” said board member Stephanie Iszard. “That aggrieves me.”

Just 12.8 percent of African-American students and 16.8 percent of Hispanic students scored on or above grade level for algebra I, while 62.4 percent of Asian students and 45.2 percent of Caucasian students scored on or above grade level.

The racial disparities were similar on the English 10 and algebra II PARCC exams, according to reports.

On the English 10 exam, 25.2 percent of African American students, 62.4 percent of Asian students, 27.5 percent of Hispanic students and 49.8 percent of Caucasian students scored on grade-level.

On the algebra II exam, 5.7 percent of African-American students, 45.9 percent of Asian students, 11.4 percent of Hispanic students and 26.6 percent of Caucasian students scored on or above grade level.

The five-tiered scoring system lists Level 5 and Level 4 as meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations, and indicates college and career readiness. The lower three tiers, 1-3, mean the student is below grade-level expectations.

On the algebra I exam, only 5.9 percent of special education students scored at a Level 4 or Level 5, and just 13.2 percent of students receiving free or reduced price meals scored on grade-level. On the English 10 exam, 7.1 percent of special education students and 22.7 percent of low-income students scored at grade-level. On the algebra II exam, 5.7 percent of special education students and 6.7 percent of low-income students scored on grade-level.

Individual high school results will be released Nov. 5, according to a news release.

Board members suggested the exam’s baseline could be lower this year because students did not have an incentive to pass in order to graduate.

Whether the exams will be required for high school graduation will be decided at a future board meeting, according to board members, but the scores will not be used as a requirement this year or in teacher evaluations.

Interim State Superintendent of Schools Jack R. Smith also pointed to the not-so-seamless transition between standardized tests, citing the shift to the standardized High School Assessments in 2003.

In 2003, fewer than 40 percent of students passed the HSA, but just four years later in 2007, more than 70 percent of high school students passed the exam.

The PARCC high school exams are expected to replace High School Assessments in English, government, biology and Algebra I.

“Obviously this is a cold shower, and combining it with the (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores that come out (Wednesday) — it will be an even colder shower,” said board member Chester E. Finn Jr.

THE NAEP is a national report card that breaks down student achievement in the core subjects of mathematics, reading, science and writing.

However, most of Finn’s concern with the test remains with how parents will interpret their children’s scores when they receive the paper take-home reports next month.

Finn said the take-home report’s description of the Levels 1-5 tiered system will not clearly explain the difference between who is on grade level and who is not.

“The score report to parents as shown this morning, does not tell them an honest statement.” Finn said. “It is in fact misleading, unless you have a Ph.D.”

Individual reports are expected to be sent home to high school students on Nov. 3.

Elementary and middle school students are expected to receive individual scores on Nov. 30. The board plans to release statewide results for elementary and middle school PARCC exams at their next meeting, Dec. 8.

First PARCC test a benchmark, expected to improve

Teachers administered the exam for the first time in 11 states and the District of Columbia in the spring as part of the Common Core Standards Initiative, a nationally controversial teaching and testing method.

States began releasing preliminary results in early September from the first round of tests, with New Jersey and Massachusetts releasing scores last week. Maryland is the third-to-last state to release data, according to the board.

In many other states, a majority of students’ PARCC scores missed the target grade-level benchmark. New Mexico and New Jersey also saw more than half of high school students fail to meet PARCC’s grade-level proficiency target in both English and math.

Though fewer Maryland students’ appear to have met grade-level standards on the PARCC than on previous statewide standardized exams, like the Maryland State Assessment, or MSA, and the HSA, they aren’t directly comparable. Scores released this year cannot be lower, or higher, than previous year’s exams because this test has never been given here, state education officials said.

“This is a challenging assessment, and the data reflects that,” Smith said in a statement. “But it is important to recognize that this data is only a snapshot; it’s one additional measure to use when viewing the progress of our students, along with many other factors.”

Maryland teacher’s union officials agree that the exams need to arrive earlier in order for individualized scores to be useful for teachers.

Scores in later years are expected to be released in the summer, helping teachers better prepare for incoming students, according to the board.

“It’s making sure that the assessments that are given are not redundant, they’re useful for instruction and they come back to the teachers in a timely manner so that they can change instruction,” said Cheryl Bost, vice president of the Maryland State Education Association and an elementary school teacher in Baltimore County. “Getting a test result for students who are already out of your classroom becomes meaningless.”

By Marissa Horn

New Poll Shows Edwards Leading Van Hollen in Senate Race


Rep. Donna Edwards leads fellow Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen in the race for U.S. Senate in Maryland, according to a new Washington Post-University of Maryland Poll released Friday.

Edwards, of Fort Washington, leads Van Hollen, of Kensington, by 10 percentage points – 38 percent to 28 percent – the survey found.

This poll is the first to be conducted independently of the campaigns.

“These results certainly counter the perceived advantage that appeared to initially go to Van Hollen as the establishment-supported candidate,” said Stella Rouse, director of the University of Maryland’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship.

An earlier poll, released in August by the Edwards campaign, showed Edwards with a five-point lead over Van Hollen.

“Donna’s lead in the polls continues to grow because she’s the only progressive fighter in this race willing take on the special interests that stand in the way of progress for Maryland’s middle class families,” said Ben Gerdes, communications director for the Edwards campaign.

The poll also shows that if Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, entered the race, he would have a substantial lead over both Edwards and Van Hollen.

Thirty-three percent of the 550 Democratic voters questioned in the poll said they would vote for Cummings. Edwards and Van Hollen both earned 20 percent of the vote in the hypothetical three-person race.

“It seems that the strength of Baltimore politics is being felt,” Rouse said. “It will be interesting to see whether these numbers help persuade Cummings to enter the race.”

Cummings has said that he will not make his decision about entering the race until after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies in front of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, on which he is the ranking member.

Another important highlight in the poll is the large number of voters who remain undecided if Cummings does not enter the race: more than 30 percent of the Democratic voters polled haven’t settled on Edwards or Van Hollen.

“In the time until the election a great deal can change. But these results are nothing short of fascinating,” Michael Hanmer, research director for the Maryland center, said in a statement. “Whether Representative Cummings runs or not, this is going to be an interesting and tightly contested race.”

The Van Hollen campaign does not view the recent poll results as a setback.

“This poll reflects what everyone has always known — the campaign depends on the battle for the undecided voters in the Baltimore area,” Van Hollen campaign manager Sheila O’Connell said in a statement.

The Van Hollen campaign aired its first television advertisement last week in the Baltimore media market, a step aimed at helping the congressman’s polling numbers.

“The Post poll was conducted before our campaign aired its first television ad in Baltimore. We have growing endorsements in the area, from respected legislators to grassroots activists,” O’Connell said.

The poll comes on the heels of the end of the financial quarter, which began July 1 and ended September 30.

The Van Hollen campaign raised $950,000 in the third quarter of the year, and now has $4.1 million in the bank.

“As Chris travels to every corner of the state, he is hearing from voters about the issues that matter to them. Their support and generosity is humbling,” O’Connell said.

Although Van Hollen continues to dominate the financial side of the race, his third quarter numbers include a 63 percent decrease from the $2.6 million raised in the previous quarter.

The Edwards campaign has not made its third quarter numbers public, although the Oct. 15 filing deadline with the Federal Election Commission has just passed.

Senate candidates file on paper and the FEC says it can take up to 48 hours to get the information scanned and available to the public on its website.