A routine action — approving appointments to board and commissions — became complicated when a library board member’s public stance on education cost him another term.
The library board member was Brandon Rippeon, a Gaithersburg resident. County Council President Tom Hucker asked council members during their Oct. 12 meeting to pull Rippeon’s appointment, because of past comments he made about the achievement gap.
Rippeon, who served on the library board for six years, made comments to Montgomery County Media in April 2018, placing blame on parents for the achievement gap, not teachers. The County Council, earlier that month, unanimously approved appointments to the library board, including Rippeon, without discussion.
Last month, Hucker convinced his colleagues to pull Rippeon’s reappointment to the library board, based on his prior comments on the achievement gap, arguing that they were insensitive to communities of color (his comments start at around 2:46:40 here). Rippeon’s comments, in an interview with Montgomery County Media, included:
“Every election cycle, we do talk about the achievement gap, and why is it not getting better? And I think we need to have an honest discussion about it. And I don’t like that the classroom teachers are the ones blamed for this, because I don’t believe it’s their fault.
“Children come to school with an achievement gap. The achievement gap is not taught at school. The children come with an achievement gap, and that shows that the parents are not doing the things that are necessary in order for their own children to succeed in school. … The learning that goes on at school should supplement the learning that goes on at home. It should not be a substitute or a replacement for it.”
Hucker also cited a Cumberland Times-News article in 2012, when Rippeon was running for Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District.
Hucker said the article included troubling views by Rippeon, including that English should be recognized as the national language and that babies born in the United States to undocumented immigrants should not be granted citizenship.
In an interview, Rippeon — who ran unsuccessfully for the school board in 2016 and 2018 — defended his past comments, including on the achievement gap. He said his comments are about parents across all backgrounds, not any particular race.
“This is about parents making sure their children are prepared to come to school to learn,” Rippeon said.
“I’m not targeting anybody. This is about education and literacy and the point of the question that was asked was the achievement gap and blaming the classroom teachers. … Students come to school with an achievement gap, and that’s the responsibility of the parents, and it’s not the fault of the classroom teachers,” he added.
Rippeon said he was “heartbroken” about the council’s decision to keep him from serving again on the library board. He said he appreciated the chance to serve the community.
He said Hucker’s decision to pull his appointment made the process “political” during an election cycle. Rippeon said that was inappropriate, since the library board is viewed as a nonpartisan body.
The board consists of 14 members and “makes recommendations to the County Executive on matters affecting the public library system, such as the location of new library facilities, the adequacy of book collections, services to outlying districts, and personnel needs of Montgomery County Public Libraries,” according to a county web page.
Hucker, a Democrat, said in an interview that it does not matter whether Rippeon is or was a Republican — Rippeon said he has not been registered with the Republican Party for years — but rather that his views do not represent the racial equity and social justice goals of the county.
Many Republicans have been appointed to prominent positions on the redistricting commission, the planning board and other bodies, Hucker said.
“The achievement gap is understood to be a racial achievement gap … so I don’t think he can paper over this,” Hucker said of Rippeon’s views. “If he’s blaming the parents of lower-performing students, I don’t think that’s where the blame needs to lie, and I think that shows he isn’t appropriate for the library board.”
Hucker said County Executive Marc Elrich and his staff did not do a thorough enough background check on Rippeon, before his office sent over his name for reappointment to the library board.
Hucker — who has been considering running for county executive in 2022 instead of re-election — said there were serious questions why Rippeon would have been nominated, given his past comments.
Dale Tibbitts, a special assistant to Elrich, said in an interview that other names were being gathered to replace Rippeon on the board. The County Council must approve any recommendation that Elrich makes.
Elrich confirmed this in a recent interview, saying he had a list of recommended applicants who could replace Rippeon.
Elrich, who is running for re-election in 2022, added, however, that Hucker could have handled the process “in a professional manner” instead of making it a political issue.
Library Board members and staff members recommended Rippeon’s reappointment, Elrich said. He added that people could find Rippeon’s comments about the achievement gap “insensitive” and “unfortunate language to use.”
“I think it shows, to me, a lack of understanding. It’s not like parents aren’t willing to help their kids,” Elrich said. “People are struggling to make a living. A lot of these folks are working two and three jobs. … There’s a host of things that come into play here.”
Elrich added that Hucker and others could have found Rippeon’s comments from 2018 and earlier prior to the reappointment process. But Hucker said Elrich has the full-time staff to conduct better vetting of potential candidates.
“I think with everything, the buck stops with the county executive. I think that’s widely understood by the voters and the public,” Hucker said.
It’s unclear who might replace Rippeon on the library board, as the County Council pulled all of the appointments to that board during its Oct. 12 meeting.
A County Council agenda for Nov. 16 lists the following appointments from Elrich, pending confirmation from the County Council. All five people were recommended by Elrich at the Oct. 12 council meeting, plus Rippeon.
- Laura Briskin-Limehouse
- Janice Levine
- Grace Manubay
- Vikram Pant
- Suzette Spencer
Steve Bohnel can be reached at email@example.com