Husband of late school board member calls insinuations of racism ‘crazy’

Husband of late school board member calls insinuations of racism ‘crazy’

Debate began with school board’s review of award names

| Published:

Marian Greenblatt.

Photo via Marshal Greenblatt

The husband of former Montgomery County school board member Marian Greenblatt says claims that she opposed the integration of local schools and fought to eliminate a black culture course for educators are “crazy” and untrue.

In late June, the Montgomery County Board of Education ordered a comprehensive review of the names of awards it presents to staff members, students and community members to ensure they “reflect the values of the system.”

At the time, school board member Pat O’Neill said residents had raised concerns about the Marian Greenblatt Teacher of the Year award, alleging its namesake had opposed busing to achieve integration, was part of a push to abolish a black culture course for teachers and worked to change MCPS racial integration policies.

O’Neill said that although concerns had been raised about the Greenblatt award, the school board was not singling out one award.

The resolution the school board passed said the review of award names was prompted by “the important conversations taking place in our country about race, history, and our common future.”

Marian Greenblatt’s husband, Marshal, said in an interview last week that Marian was a staunch advocate for minority children and spent her career pushing to improve educational opportunities for them. She served on the school board from 1976 to 1984.

She died in 1988 at age 46.

“The idea that Marian Greenblatt was a racist or against integration or ensuring MCPS was delivering the best for minority and disadvantaged students is not true, and her whole life — her whole professional career — shows that,” Marshal Greenblatt said.

He said she worked at a historically black college in Hampton, Va., for two years and only left because he got a job in Washington, D.C.

Martin Luther King Jr. was killed while Marian Greenblatt was a professor in Virginia, and when called upon to march with students, many of whom were Black and outraged by his death, she left her 1-year-old son at home and joined in, Marshal Greenblatt said.

“Some in the administration started calling teachers and said, ‘We need professors whom the students trust to go down and be a calming presence,’ ” Marshal Greenblatt said. “Many did not go, but Marian turned to me and said, ‘You take care of the baby. I’m going.’ You don’t do things like that if you’re a racist.”

Marshal Greenblatt said Marian did not want to abolish the Black culture course, but she did not want it to be mandatory. It was a controversial position, Marshal Greenblatt said, but Marian tried to find middle ground.

She also did not oppose integrated schools, he said.

What Marian Greenblatt stood for, Marshal said, was wanting students to have homework, ensuring students can read on grade level, eliminating frivolous classes, decreasing class sizes, eliminating student truancy and ensuring budget funds were used efficiently.

When Marian died, Marshal Greenblatt established the Marian Greenblatt Education Fund to commemorate her efforts in a way to involve her children. Her sons were 21, 17 and 14 years old when she died, Marshal Greenblatt said.

“I didn’t want them to forget their mother,” he said. “We’re trying to honor her memory by honoring good teachers and good kids.”

Marshal Greenblatt said many teachers who have won awards funded by the Greenblatt foundation were people of color including five of the past 16 teacher of the year winners.

“To me, what she did before coming to Montgomery County, and what she did on the Board of Education, is honorable,” Marshal Greenblatt said. “There’s no apologies necessary, and if anyone wants to talk about it, I’m here and I’m available.”

The school board’s review of its award names is expected to be completed in January 2021.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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