The Howard County school board adopted last night a revamped human rights policy, including an extension of rights to gay students, in an effort to increase sensitivity among students and employees in the school system while establishing a procedure for punishing violators.
"The board will not tolerate nor condone any act of bias, discrimination, insensitivity or disrespect toward any person," the board's new policy says.
Last night's vote was 4-to-1 in favor of the policy, with board member Dana F. Hanna casting the lone vote of opposition.
Some of the major points in the amended policy require consideration of diversity in the hiring and distribution of staff at various schools and require that the history, culture and contributions of various ethnic groups be portrayed "in an accurate, balanced and fair manner." School are also required to provide opportunities "for all students to explore a variety of ethnic cultures."
Alleged violations of the new policy would require school principals to conduct a conference to clarify the issues and find out the exact nature of the violations and hold a meeting to "inform and enlighten students or staff members who display offending behavior."
Disciplinary action against offenders could include a written reprimand, suspension or termination.
The board's policy is consonant with the county's human rights law, which protects individuals regardless of race, creed, religion, physical or mental disability, color, sex, national origin, age, occupation, marital status, political opinion, sexual orientation or physical appearance.
Sexual orientation was added after several members of the community, including a parent of a gay child, asked that it be included among the protected categories. The enlarged policy was recommended by a committee of citizens and Board of Education staff members.
Patti Vierkant, spokeswoman for the school system, said the provision was unintentionally left out by the committee initially but was added later to correct the oversight.
Mr. Hanna voted against the policy after his proposed amendment -- which would have referred to the county's human rights protected categories without naming them in the board's policy statement -- failed to get support from other members.