Metts’ Attorneys Win Temporary Injunction

by 9 News and The Associated Press

The head of the Prince George’s county council is falling in line behind the embattled superintendent.

Peter Shapiro says it was a mistake for the school board to fire Iris Metts. He calls the decision “strange,” and says it’s hard to see how it benefits the children of the county.

Shapiro tells 9 News, Prince George’s County has a difficult school system that faces unique problems, but that Metts has been up to the task of addressing them.

Also today, several state lawmakers who support Metts are expected to introduce legislation in Annapolis to strip the PG school board of its powers.

A majority of the board voted over the weekend to fire Metts, effective immediately. But a judge ruled Metts’ contract require the board to give her 45 days’ notice.

A lawyer for Prince George’s County Superintendent Iris Metts says the judge’s ruling invalidates the county school board’s resolution to fire her.

Attorney Stuart Grozbean says he’s gratified that Judge Chief Circuit Court Judge William Missouri ruled to grant a ten-day injunction to prevent Metts’ firing until further hearings can be held.

But school board chairman Kenneth Johnson says his interpretation of the ruling is that the board was wrong only in failing to give Metts 45 days’ notice before firing her. Johnson says the board plans to deliver that notice Monday.

Metts plans to appeal her dismissal Monday to state Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick. Metts maintains that the county school board cannot make an important personnel decision without consulting a state Management Oversight Panel named in 1999 to solve the county’s education problems.

The board had voted 6-3 Saturday to remove the controversial head of Maryland’s largest school district after a contentious two-and-a-half year term that was marked by infighting between panel members and Metts.

The board wanted to install an interim superintendent on Monday, but Missouri’s ruling will make that impossible.

Metts’ attorney, Stuart Grozbean, asked the court to issue the injunction because, he argued, the board had overstepped its authority by firing Metts without approval from a state advisory panel.

Lawyers for the school board told the court they acted legally and that under Metts’ contract they have the authority to dismiss her.

Late Sunday, board chairman Kenneth Johnson said his interpretation of Missouri’s ruling was that the board was allowed to fire Metts, but must first give her 45 days notice under state law.

“We already know what the next step is,” said Johnson. “We are going to issue the 45-day notice.”

In an interview Sunday after the judge’s ruling, Grozbean said the ruling means the board cannot “unilaterally terminate” Metts without approval from Grasmick.

“I believe the court found that the actions taken in the resolution were wrong yesterday (Saturday),” he said. “Why would it be valid tomorrow?”

Grasmick said on Saturday that she plans to discuss Metts’ firing the state Board of Education to be sure Metts is treated fairly.

“I want to be sure there’s stability in terms of the system. My greatest concern resides with the students,” Grasmick said.

School board member Doyle Niemann, a Metts supporter, said the board had been considering appointing two internal candidates as acting superintendent — Associate Superintendents Howard Burnett and Scottie Griffin. Howard County’s Director of Academic Support Services, Jacqueline Brown, has been identified as a possible long-term successor.

Johnson told The Associated Press that the board had reached a “tentative agreement” with an interim superintendent to take over for Metts, but would not say who it is.

Meanwhile, Del. Rushern Baker III, D-Prince Beorge’s, plans on Monday to introduce emergency legislation that will strip the board’s of its power to make major decisions.

“I think this is horrible,” Baker said. “My intention is to immediately put in legislation to restrict the board from hiring a replacement. This is just crazy.”

Legislators also are considering bills to replace the elected board with an appointed one, or to make it a combination of elected and appointed members.