The county Board of Education agreed Thursday to spend about $100,000 to initiate a three-year program to combat racism and prejudice in Howard County schools.
The plan, with a total price tag of nearly $200,000, was recommended by a 21-member task force appointed in June by Superintendent Michael E. Hickey.
"We have a personal commitment to not reduce, but eliminate racism in our schools," said Sandra Erickson, co-chairwoman of the task force and curriculum coordinator of staff development programs.
Howard County schools have been criticized for refusing to handle hate and bias incidents. The Maryland Commission on Human Relations released a report last month, following a four-month study into the schools' handling of racial, religious and ethnic intolerance.
The report said that dozens of racial incidents have gone unreported in the schools, and that principals and teachers have avoided reporting incidents because they are uncomfortable handling them. The report also said that while the schools offer many continuing education courses and seminars on multiculturalism, few teachers take them.
The new plan, "Coalition Building Toward the Elimination of Racism and Prejudice," is the latest in a series of efforts to improve human relations in the school system.
It calls for all employees, including principals, teachers, custodians and secretaries, to participate in a series of workshops designed to eradicate racism and prejudice in the school system, and increase awareness of cultural differences.
Board member Susan J. Cook praised the program, noting that it is a first step in the right direction.
"We have long to go, but we've started."
Mr. Hickey applauded the plan's goal to train all employees in the school system.
"I think that's a very strong and very important point," Mr. Hickey said. "We contribute in a very direct way to their [students'] education and climate."
Mr. Hickey said he hopes to initiate the plan by next month under the direction of the school system's new human relations coordinator, Jacqueline F. Brown.
The task force suggested that during the program, which would end in 1995, employees study in small groups, beginning with top administrators and concluding with the training of teachers and other school personnel.
"We felt very strongly that we didn't want to see masses of people sitting around trying to eliminate racism and prejudice," Ms. Erickson said.
The $100,000, which comes from the schools' contingency fund, will cover the first year of the plan.
,.5l In other business, the Board of Education approved:
* An updated high school grievance committee policy.
* A $73,000 federally funded grant to hire a special education teacher who can instruct children in nursery schools, preschools, and kindergarten. The instructor will also train teachers who work with special-needs children.