Howard County parent wants two top educators punished Racial incident on bus prompted complaint

February 22, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey should be disciplined and Julene Crooks, board of education executive assistant, fired for inappropriate responses to a Dec. 4 racial incident, a parent has told the Howard County Human Rights Commission.

Evonnie Gbadebo, who is black, says Dr. Hickey should be disciplined for refusing to see her until nine days after her 14-year-old daughter was told she stinks and was sprayed with a can of disinfectant on a school bus by a 13-year-old white boy.

Dr. Hickey was so protected by secretaries that she had to ask school board Chairwoman Deborah D. Kendig to intervene, Ms. Gbadebo told the commission Thursday. By the time Dr. Hickey was ready to see her, she was no longer interested in seeing him, and didn't, Ms. Gbadebo testified.

Dr. Hickey was in Annapolis when Ms. Gbadebo first tried to see him, so his secretary suggested she talk to the director of middle schools. "The following week, I was locked up in a budget session when Ms. Gbadebo came in without an appointment and demanded to see me," Dr. Hickey said.

Ms. Gbadebo met instead with Kathleen Griffin, the school system's director of human relations, Dr. Hickey said. After hearing Ms. Griffin's report, Dr. Hickey said he told Ms. Griffin the sooner she could set up a meeting between him and Ms. Gbadebo the better. But Ms. Gbadebo told Ms. Griffin she no longer was interested.

"I understand how awful she feels," Dr. Hickey said. "We have a lot of concern for her and her daughter."

Ms. Crooks was the first person at the board whom Ms. Gbadebo talked to, she said. Instead of offering understanding, Ms. Crooks showed a racist attitude, Ms. Gbadebo said.

"She could see I was angry. She asked me, 'Are you here because your son was suspended?' " Ms. Gbadebo told the commission. "I told her I had no son."

It was racist of Ms. Crooks, who is white, to assume that the most logical reason a black woman wanted to see the superintendent was because she had a son who had been suspended, Ms. Gbadebo said.

Ms. Crooks could not be reached for comment.

"I deserved immediate attention, not condescension," Ms. Gbadebo said. "The school system should have been asking what concrete measures it could take to implement existing policy. At the very least, I expected the school system to use the PTC incident to teach about the effects of racism. Instead, school officials thought that if they ignored me, I would go away.

"But this is my child, my firstborn. Someone is accountable for what happened to my daughter. Someone has to be held accountable. No one should be allowed to chase another child out of school."

Her daughter now is attending school in Columbia, Ms. Gbadebo said, but had been attending Glenwood Middle at the time. Ms. Gbadebo has since put her house up for sale, she said, because she does not want her other two daughters to have the same experiences.

"It goes on and on and on," she told the commission. "I can't believe the lack of the level of unprofessionalism. . . . How dare the school system ignore this situation!"

Commission Chairman Roger W. Jones told Ms. Gbadebo "the state human rights commission has agreed to investigate the entire Howard County school system and the school board" because the local commission cannot.

The county code lists five areas -- housing, employment, law enforcement, public accommodation and financing -- covered by the Human Rights Commission. The school system is not included.

"I am always pained by racial incidents," Mr. Jones said. "I wish we had a [local] mechanism" for investigating racism in the schools.

Dr. Hickey said yesterday he plans to present a new policy to the school board next month regarding racism and sexism between students.

As for Ms. Gbadebo's charges, Dr. Hickey said he and Ms. Crooks are terribly sorry that circumstances compounded the problem.

"Ms. Crooks had handled an appeal previously on a possible suspension and was here by herself when Ms. Gbadebo came in very upset," Dr. Hickey said. "Ms. Crooks was on the phone -- her mind on a number of different things. Ms. Gbadebo took offense and, I believe, left.

"Ms. Crooks subsequently sent her a letter of apology. Ms. Crooks made a statement that reflected her confusion, not her assumptions. She felt very badly about it. I don't feel discipline is necessary."

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