A stay-at-home mother from rural Knoxville has proved to be the most controversial figure in the Frederick County school board election.
Though other candidates don’t want overtesting in classrooms, Cindy Rose, 53, is single-minded in her determination to completely free the school district of the federal government’s influence and its testing mandates. She seeks to preserve what she calls “true local education,” determined and designed by parents and the community.
Rose has unapologetically demanded the resignation of the school superintendent and publicly scorned the teachers union for what she feels is an unfair method of endorsing candidates.
Her challenges to Frederick County Public Schools are frequent and delve into the nitty-gritty. She often emails the school system’s legal department with public records requests, demanding emails from Superintendent Terry Alban’s inbox or the count of students who have refused Maryland’s standardized tests.
Rose, too, is the only Republican among the four candidates vying for three open Frederick County Board of Education seats. Though the race is officially nonpartisan, political ties are often public.
Frederick County’s Republican Central Committee hasn’t shied away from sharing its strategy, directing Republicans to vote only for Rose to ensure she reaches the board.
One Democrat in the school board race, Lois Jarman, advanced in April’s primary election, but dropped out of the race specifically to block Rose’s election, calling her “dangerous.”
She wrote to The Frederick News-Post in a letter, as a response to Jarman’s statements, that the establishment that Jarman represents does not “abide the sunshine.”
Other detractors have gone as far as depicting Rose as filled with rage and unfit for office. Screenshots have floated around Facebook and blogs of her insulting Alban using profane language.
“That’s like coming into my house and listening to us have a good time and I say the F-bomb,” Rose said in a recent interview. “That’s my personal space. Do I talk like that ... when I’m at a cocktail party, or at a Christmas dinner? Or when I’m at a function with other people? Absolutely not. But that’s my personal space. And if you don’t like it, get off.”
After growing up in Harford County, Rose moved to Frederick County with her second husband around the early 2000s.
She managed a law firm in Towson for 15 years, enrolling in the occasional law course. At one point, she intended to pass the bar herself, until she decided that too many people graduate from law school.
Rose said she grew up in a dysfunctional household with an alcoholic mother, and she treated her time at school as an escape. She knows that because school saved her, it can offer a haven for other students, away from beatings, fights, drugs.
Even so, by her own account, Rose paid little attention to the public educational system, both in Harford and Frederick counties, for most of her life. Three children from her first marriage graduated from public schools before she took an interest in the school district.
She had trusted the school districts to ensure the best for her children, a faith that has been replaced by indelible skepticism.
A number of incidents with the school district prompted her anger.
One that happened in Frederick County, she said, is so serious and personal, she won’t discuss it.
Another involved her son, Ben, a central figure in a number of her spats with the school district. Ben, who has cerebral palsy, was delivered home on the bus from school one day flushed and sweating, his mother said.
Rose figured out that he been transported on a bus without air conditioning, something unhealthy for Ben given his condition.
In perhaps her most publicized and drawn-out skirmish, around 2011, Rose challenged the use of a social studies textbook in her daughter’s third-grade class that she asserted was one-sided, pro-big-government propaganda.
Her arguments reached an enormous swath of the nation’s conservatives with an appearance on Glenn Beck’s show on Fox News, with Beck himself contemptuously reading aloud passages of the book.
Most recently, in 2015, Rose appealed to the school board that Alban overstepped by testing her two children when she explicitly did not give permission.
She lost the appeal, but she credits her visible battle with the development of the new school board policy that acknowledges students do refuse state standardized tests.
Rose said she tried the role of meek, polite parent, who would write letters and contact all the right people. No one cared.
“When do they care? When you’re jumping up and down like a raving lunatic,” Rose said.
When she ran initially for the school board in 2012, she was merely “pissed off” — the wrong reason to seek office, she said (she fell far short in the 2012 primary election). Now, something has to change.
Much of her anger stems from her protectiveness of Ben, who attends Rock Creek School, the Frederick County school for students with severe disabilities. He can’t speak, and by Rose’s estimate, his capabilities are akin to a baby’s. He’s a joyous child, he said, who enjoys fart noises, tickling and Minions from the “Despicable Me” series.
When she found out about his disability after his birth, Rose said, she kept wanting someone to wake her up.
“This is why I’m such a strong advocate for the special education portion,” she said with tears in her eyes. “My child can’t speak for himself. My God, you will let me speak for him. That’s why I’ve fought so hard for him. I would do that for any child. If we’re not looking out for the most vulnerable in our society, then there’s something wrong.”
Making education local
Large corporations that dominate the testing industry and the federal government won’t look out for Frederick County’s children, Rose said. So people who live here must.
She acknowledges that parents lead busy lives, and haven’t earned degrees in education. That doesn’t mean they can’t help write curriculum, especially if the establishment stops treating them as if they’re stupid, she said.
The school district and school board need to stop using acronyms and jargon during meetings and speak plain English to remove barriers for parents, she said. People don’t want to be called “stakeholders.” They want to recognized as parents. The district tends to dump information on parents, too, in flurries of emails, forcing parents to wade through and find what they need to know, Rose said.
Public education has shifted away from personal contact with teachers and is filled with talk of data and technology, Rose said. Eventually, public education will be reduced to a tablet preloaded with lessons, Rose said, a scenario she doesn’t want to envision.
Rose would be one of seven members on the board, a part-time position that earns a $10,000 stipend a year.
She recognizes she can’t influence change at the federal level by herself. But she said she would be willing to go as far as sue the state of Maryland because the state’s constitution requires that public education be maintained.
“I’m just passionate about education, a real education, designed by the local community,” Rose said. “I am not an aggressive or short-fused person, unless you’re picking on my children, and I’m sorry, I’m not going to apologize for that.”