The final meeting this academic year of the Baltimore County school board left unexplored what may have been the most controversial subjects on last night's agenda -- the county's minority achievement plan and the proposal to use a commercial news show as part of the instruction program.
The Coalition of Concerned African-American Organizations challenged the county's commitment to minority students. But the board took no unified position in response. Some members declined to comment, saying they wanted to see the county's full report on the Minority Achievement, Participation and Success plan.
And after listening to several presentations on the advantages and disadvantages of placing pilot "Channel One" news and information programs in some county classrooms in the fall, board members decided to delay voting on the issue until the next board meeting July 13.
The programs, produced by Whittle Communications of Knoxville, Tenn., include 12 minutes of news and two minutes of commercials.
They were approved for use in Baltimore classrooms by that school board earlier this month. The company provides equipment, including televisions and video cassette recorders, free of cost to schools in the program.
The African-American coalition members presented the board with a report card grading county schools' implementation of the MAPS plan, which gave the plan failing marks in commitment from the top levels of the county school system, commitment from principals and the number of suspensions of black children. It also made suggestions for how the plan might be improved.
Minority children make up more than 22 percent of the county school system's population.
Though coalition members recognized the commitment of several principals and administrators, many, they say, are resisting the plan.
"Too many principals don't know how to administer [MAPS]," said Wyatt Coger, a coalition member. "The problem lies in total commitment."
"Are we to sit idly by and witness our children dying on the operating table of poor education?" the Rev. W. James Favorite, president of the coalition, asked board members.
Favorite earlier this year resigned his position on the Minority Education Coordinating Council.
In his letter of resignation, Favorite applauded the idea of the MAPS program but said that "after three years and six months of futile activity, MAPS is still just an idea."
Robert Y. Dubel, the county superintendent, defended his commitment to MAPS and said the board recognized the lack of support for minority achievement as a "national problem."
"We have our share of this problem . . . and we're going to address it very, very aggressively," he said.
He quoted the letter he wrote accepting Favorite's resignation: "I can assure you that we care very deeply about all children, or we would not persist in this profession during discouraging fiscal times."
To persuade the board to vote for the Channel One programming, several principals -- including Donald Mohler of South Point Middle School, Ray Gross of Hereford High School and Ronald Boone of Golden Ring Middle School -- presented arguments that they said were backed by their staffs, students and parents.
Teachers "saw tremendous possibilities," Mohler said. Some were interested in the prospect of taping
their lessons, or cataloging information. Parents were encouraged by the idea that their teens would be watching news, something few of them do at home.
"We want to sit in judgment," Mohler said. "Let's not rely on some outside source to say 'Whittle is good,' or 'Whittle is bad' . . . Be from Missouri. Say, 'show me.' "
But Carmela A. Veit, president of the PTA Council of Baltimore County, urged the board to "fight this shocking misuse of our Baltimore County public schools, to protect the general welfare of our students, to care for the integrity of the learning environment, and to decline the Whittle offer."
"The students in our school should not be for sale or trade for any piece of equipment," she said. "It is a violation of public trust."
Board members watched a five-minute Channel One "news bite," along with a one-minute commercial. Unable to make a decision, the board decided to reopen the Channel One issue next month.
Board member Alan M. Leberknight said individual schools should be allowed to choose whether to use Channel One, arguing that it would boost morale in the school system.
"I think we have to show confidence. . . . I think we'd increase morale by allowing these schools to do what they want to do."
But Calvin D. Disney, the board's vice president, requested more time to make a decision.
"There are some things that are disturbing to me," he said.
"We basically will become part of their sales approach, and I'm not comfortable with that."