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August 25, 2014

One Bad Apple Spoiling The “Barrel”

Jill King

The Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA) has been known for years for their ability to access state funds to endorse candidates in Frederick County. They seem to be willing to do anything in order to gain the seats needed by controlling local elections for the county’s Board of Education.


But what one FCTA board member recently did was such an egregious use of public resources that it leaves one to wonder if he acted alone or with permission.


Adam Umak, chairman of the Association Representatives Committee for the FCTA, a language arts teacher at Thurmont Middle School, a blogger, and a political activist known for his words against the current Board of County Commissioners, claims to have unknowingly put up a link to his personal blog site on his Thurmont Middle School site. After clicking on the disclosure link on that official school site, one could find his personal blog on the top tabs with the first one dedicated to his Letter to the Editor against the local sitting county commissioners’ member. Not only was his political views on the publicly-owned website, but he promoted a book he authored for sale for a profit.


Mr. Umak was not only using the publicly owned Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) website for political purposes but for earning potential in a private business above his publicly paid salary.


Yes, this is the same man that Kirby Delauter exposed in a Frederick News Post Letter to the Editor for receiving numerous raises, when he claimed in a public budget meeting that the county commissioners were doing him an injustice by not providing funds for teacher raises.


Upon finding that Mr. Umak had used the disclaimer link for personal and political purposes, an email was immediately sent to FCPS, including to Superintendent Dr. Theresa R. Alban, demanding removal the link. After that it took an additional three working days to remove it, since each school website has its own administrator and apparently no back up to make needed changes to the site.


The strange thing is that Mr. Umak had the school access a disclaimer link, when there is already a disclaimer to the public on the page. Now upon looking further, there is no disclaimer link on that page.


Another issue is that – with school starting – students and parents alike would have been accessing that information and would have clicked through the tabs. Students are asked by teachers to look at the information on their personal website to gather resources necessary for their success at school. Parents would have also been looking at the page to confirm what their children needed to know.


This is serious.


According to Regulation 200-38 Policy #314, Teachers also have a responsibility to school students not to impose partisan political views in the classroom, or to exploit students by the use of political materials. Political activities of teachers, including wearing political buttons, must be conducted outside of school hours and off school premises.


The above is a code of ethics regulation and I would encourage others to watch for any political activities by the Apple Ballot bearers during the upcoming school year. This includes ballots in the front office or wearing political attire. The FCTA wants to win and after finding this violation by Mr. Umak, there are no doubts that it will occur again; there have been reports in the past.


This finding came after the big announcement by Jan Gardner, Susan Reeder Jesse, and Linda Norris – in a Frederick News-Post article - seeking stronger oversight of the county ethics rules, which don't apply to FCPS. After it was all over social media, it is certain that they all are aware how two out of the three of the candidate's main support system has behaved. Yet, there was no response or action to make a stronger ethics system for teachers. There is a definite hypocrisy here, when Ms. Gardner is using her main cheerleader former county school superintendent Jack Dale’s connections with FCPS to promote her in the county executive race.


It is unfortunate that we will never find out who was behind the Umak incident. Hopefully, other will realize they are there for the children first and not for political gain. They have more time than most for activism since schools are closed on Election Day and they are free to work the polls, while most other professions are working and have to use leave time to do so.


It only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch.


retraining my brain for the future, conferring with the past...


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