Harford County Board Of Education Draws Mixed Reactions As New Members Take Their Seats
HARFORD COUNTY - At Monday's Harford County Board of Education meeting, residents, and parents voiced mixed reactions to the three newly seated members of the Harford County Board of Education. The new members, Aaron Poynton, Lauren Strauss, and Terri Kocher, were appointed by County Executive Bob Cassilly in February.
More than a dozen residents and community leaders spoke at the meeting, with some praising the new appointees and others expressing concerns that they would bring partisan policies to HCPS.
Aaron Poynton, an Army Special Operations veteran and parent of three HCPS students, was elected president of the board during Monday's meeting. Addressing Poynton and the other new members, Bel Air parent Karen Waller urged the school system to protect its LGBTQ+ students.
"After listening to the last few speakers, I feel compelled to add that being inclusive does not preclude high achievement," Waller said. "I shudder at the thought of how many vulnerable children will be bullied should diversity, equity, and inclusivity become a thing of the past."
Poynton and fellow new board member Lauren Strauss have received criticism in the past from the Harford County NAACP and the Harford County Democratic Central Committee, expressing concerns over the member's ties to conservative groups.
Poynton worked on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' national leadership team, and Strauss is a member of the Harford County Republican Central Committee.
In February, Harford County Democratic Central Committee, Henry Gibbons, described Poynton and Strauss as "radicals" and called on residents to oppose their nominations.
"Mr. Poynter's affiliations paint him as a hyperpartisan, right-wing ideologue who is unfit to steward the institution with which we entrust our children's education," Gibbons wrote in the newsletter.
The new board president has been open about sharing his political opinions. In an op-ed for the Daily Caller, Poynton expressed his admiration for DeSantis and condemned former president Donald Trump.
"He would never call a war veteran a "loser" or pick a fight with a Gold Star family," Poynton wrote.
Gibbons congratulated the new members at Monday's meeting and urged caution in changing school policy.
"In this term, you will affect a generation of Harford County citizens," Gibbons said. "We urge you to be cautious when you are approached by groups who oppose public education… and who perpetuate false claims about indoctrination in schools and elsewhere."
Several speakers suggested that the new appointees do not have a public mandate to change the system. Six of the eleven Harford County Board of Education members are elected, and five are appointed, including the superintendent.
In 2022, the Maryland General Assembly transferred appointment powers from the governor to the county executive, allowing Cassilly to make this year's appointments.
“A majority of Harford County voters support moderation in their school board representatives," resident Susan Didi said at Monday's meeting.
In April, another board member was criticized for her statements at an "Exposing Gender Ideology" town hall event in Carroll County. At the meeting, board member Diane Alvarez questioned how to counter parents who support children discussing their pronouns in public schools.
In an open letter addressed to Alvarez, the Association of Public School Administrators and Supervisors, the Association of Harford County Administrative, Technical, Supervisory Professionals, and the Harford County Education Association called her comments "exclusive."
"Bottom line, your conduct is making others feel unwelcomed and undervalued, which is contrary to Harford County Public Schools' mission," the letter states.
Amid the criticism, several speakers thanked the new members, hoping the board would change its stance on progressive issues.
"I feel like there are finally good people on the board instead of left-learning social activists," one speaker noted.
Ultimately, all the speakers thanked the board members for taking on such a stressful and often thankless job. Poynton thanked the board and the public and said he hopes to improve all aspects of HCPS.
"It's an honor to be a member of the Board of Education. I want to thank the county executive, the County Council, and members of the public who supported me during the confirmation process," Poynton said.
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