The Maryland Commission on Human Relations will investigate county schools to determine whether minority students' rights were violated in several recent racial incidents, it announced yesterday.
Jennifer Burdick, state commission executive director, said a four-member committee will review the schools' responses to the incidents to determine whether they were appropriate and sufficient.
"We don't dispute these incidents did happen," Burdick said. "They're well documented. The question is: What exactly did the school system do in response? Or what should they be doing?"
In the past year, a string of racial incidents has raised concerns among parents. Some parents have complained that school officials responded with insensitivity.
"The only thing I can say at this point is we certainlyfeel we give very close attention to racial and ethnic issues and concerns, in the curriculum, instruction and policies," said Associate Superintendent Joan Palmer.
"I feel the school system has responded as well as any system can respond to these issues," she said.
School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey was traveling and could not be reached for comment.
The state commission's authority ranges from making recommendations to filing criminal and civil complaints.
The investigation follows a complaint lodged last month by the Howard County Human Rights Commission, whose chairman wrote a letter questioning whether any student's rights had been violated.
"We've had so many instances, and there's no way we can get any access to any of the information," said chairman Roger W. Jones. "We have white kids punching black kids in the stomach and calling them 'nigger.' "
Jonessaid he is unaware of any specific violations.
The state commission usually handles complaints from individuals who say they've been discriminated against in employment and housing but will look into issues that are broader in scope, such as those presented in Jones' letter.
In a similar investigation two years ago, the commission looked into the membership rules of private spas and clubs to determine whether their practices were discriminatory.
Burdick said that the commission will begin contacting school board members and school officials next week and hopes the investigation will be finished in June. A public hearing might take place this spring for residents and parents to air their concerns, she said.
Dana Hanna, school board vice chairman, said he was frustrated that the Howard County commission did not approach the school board before going to the state commission.
"It's my perspective that this board has gone well above operating parameters to accommodate parents expressing concern," he said.
Last month, a parent of a black West Friendship Elementary student complained to the school board that her son had been taunted with racial slurs and punched in the stomach in school. Recently, a white student sprayed disinfectant on a black Glenwood Middle student.
In March, a fight between black and white students broke out on North Laurel Road after racial slurs were shouted.
In April at Glenelg High School, vandals sprayed on glass doors, "Kill niggers . . . KKK." In May, a Glenwood Middle School teacher discovered a threatening, anti-Semitic message directed at a 13-year-old student. The message had been carved into a desk.
"And, apparently, the school system is doingnothing," Jones said. "We need an outside body to come in and get information."
Jones said he had tried in the past to talk to school officials and school board members about racial incidents in public schools. Going to the state commission was his last recourse, he said.