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Ocean Pines Association asks for removal of education signs from yards

As educators and parents worry that Worcester County Public Schools will receive minimum funding for the 2024-25 Fiscal Year, the Ocean Pines Association has asked residents to remove yard signs expressing support for the system.

OP ed sign

A sign displaying support for public education in Worcester County, which is not allowed in yards in Ocean Pines, is pictured on a commercial piece of property in Ocean Pines. Tara Fischer/Bayside Gazette

By Tara Fischer, Staff Writer 

As educators and parents worry that Worcester County Public Schools will receive minimum funding for the 2024-25 Fiscal Year, the Ocean Pines Association has asked residents to remove yard signs expressing support for the academic system, despite members of the advocacy group Worcester United requesting approval. 

Brittany Tignor, a Stephen Decatur High School librarian and a Worcester United leadership team member, submitted an application with OPA to permit displaying “I Support Public Education” signs on community properties. 

According to the Ocean Pines resident, while Worcester United initially thought the signs would be approved, OPA has seemingly denied their request, as homeowners have been asked to remove the posters from their yards. A formal disallowance was never provided to Tignor or the advocacy group. 

“There was no official communication,” the SDHS librarian said. “I understand that Ocean Pines does not want to have tons of signs, but I have a problem with how they approve and deny them. The system is not transparent … They are picking and choosing what signs get to stay and which signs don’t. It’s frustrating that there has been no official denial, yet people are getting violation letters.” 

The markings support a fully funded Worcester County Public Schools budget, among other initiatives. Based on property values, Worcester is annually one of the wealthiest counties in Maryland, meaning the system relies heavily on local financial assistance rather than state help. The Worcester County Commissioners are considering the Maintenance of Effort Formula, as they did last year, which is the lowest amount of funding permitted by law. 

School personnel are worried that vital activities will be cut if the system receives MOE. Ocean City Elementary School, Showell Elementary School, Berlin Intermediate School, Stephen Decatur Middle School, and SDHS were at risk of slashing their summer academies earlier this year due to financial concerns and an economically disadvantaged threshold rule that previously disqualified them from grant aid. 

However, the northern schools were awarded $150,000 from the Donnie Williams Foundation in March to save their extended academic services. 

While the political efforts continue, concerns have been heard about Ocean Pines seemingly being selective with signage enforcement, as political candidate signs are in yards throughout the community.

Ocean Pines argued that the signs’ content was not the cause of their denial but rather the association’s bylaws and regulations. 

“Signs need prior approval from the Architectural Review Committee if they do not fall under the allowable signs as listed in the Guidelines,” OPA Senior Executive Office Manager Linda Martin said of the controversial banners. “The ‘I Support Public Education’ signs do not meet any allowable category for signs, so a homeowner requested a blanket approval for all lots in Ocean Pines to keep the signs at the last ARC Meeting. While the ARC turned the request down, individual lots can apply for a variance to have these signs placed on their property. To date, Compliance, Permit, and Inspections have not received any such request for these signs or any sign.”

The “I Support Public Education” signs are part of a larger initiative to secure full monetary support for the schools. On April 14, Worcester United hosted a rally on the Ocean City Boardwalk where parents, teachers, school personnel, and concerned community members marched for the cause. 

“Our big goal right now is to ensure the budget gets funded,” the Worcester United member said. “Without a solid funding source, our schools will be unable to do what we need them to.” 

Tignor said that SDHS teacher Mary Hathaway and concerned parents Tom Simon and Brian Robertson assembled Worcester United as a Facebook group in November 2023. The organization was inspired following a board of education meeting where “there was a lot of hate-filled comments toward students.” 

“Worcester United is dedicated to supporting public education,” the group’s mission statement reads. “Through advocacy and collaborative efforts, we strive to break down systemic barriers, fostering an inclusive environment that empowers every learner. Our vision is a society where all students, regardless of background, can access a quality education, creating a foundation for a more just and prosperous future.”

In addition to the budget, the organization’s goals include supporting Worcester County Board of Education candidates who best align with its purpose. Tignor emphasized the need to elect a representative who listens to educators and parents and is open to a variety of perspectives. The group currently has 1,168 members on Facebook. 

“We like to say that we want our schools to be funded, safe, and inclusive,” Tignor said. 

This story appears in the May 9, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.