No public hearing to precede final report on racial incidents in schools

September 09, 1992|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

The Maryland Commission on Human Relations, which had considered scheduling a public hearing on the handling of racial incidents in the Howard County schools, decided yesterday that it will solicit only written comments as it prepares a final report.

The decision came during a commission meeting in Baltimore attended by Superintendent Michael E. Hickey and school board Vice Chairman Dana F. Hanna. The commission last month released a draft report criticizing the schools for adopting a "head in the sand" approach to hate and bias incidents.

"We felt originally a public hearing would have been best," said Henry Ford, the commission's deputy director. "But it's a tremendous commitment of staff resources." The commission, which expects to lose 15 positions to state budget cuts, would be unable to provide enough staff members for a hearing to discuss its findings, said Mr. Ford.

Instead, written comments will be accepted through Oct. 13. The commission is scheduled to vote on recommendations at its next meeting, Oct. 13.

Yesterday's meeting is the first since the commission released a page draft report detailing a four-month study into the school's handling of racial, religious and ethnic intolerance.

The study is the most extensive the commission has made of a school system.

"I was in general agreement with all the findings," Mr. Hickey told the commission during the meeting at its headquarters in downtown Baltimore. He said his first priority is improving the human relations climate in the school system.

"We will work closely with you in implementation of those recommendations," he told the commission. In its study, the commission attributed some of the problems to principals and teachers who are uncomfortable dealing with racial incidents.

In the past three years, at least 16 racial incidents at Howard schools have been documented.

A student sprayed disinfectant on a black female during a school bus ride last winter. And, earlier this year, a black elementary pupil was punched and subjected to racial slurs at West Friendship Elementary.

The draft report also says that black principals are limited to schools that have the most minorities, a practice that effectively narrows their job opportunities to schools in Columbia and Ellicott City.

Mr. Hickey denied that he makes "race-conscious decisions" when assigning minority teachers to schools, since many ask for such assignments.

But the draft report claims that such assignments result in segregation and more race incidents in south and west county schools.

"If there is a minority principal, the students themselves and the community itself want a minority role model," Mr. Hickey told the commission.

"It's a dilemma for us to do that. If I do place an African-American principal in western Howard County, am I not making a race-conscious decision?"

During the 1 1/2 -hour meeting, there were several heated exchanges between school board Vice Chairman Hanna and Roger Jones, former chairman of the county Human Rights Commission.

"We have an arrogant and insensitive school board," said Mr. Jones, who pulled out a fishing rod with the draft report attached. "Sixty-eight pages is a pretty good catch," Mr. Jones said. "This is just the tip of the iceberg."

Mr. Jones accused the school board of refusing to discuss racial incidents with the county Human Rights Commission for the past six years.

The draft report was begun at the request of the county commission after a series of hate-bias incidents on school grounds.

Mr. Hanna said the school board has invited the county Human Rights Commission to speak during its twice-monthly public meetings, and that board members are "more than willing" for such discussions to be undertaken.

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