The county Human Rights Commission is eager for a public hearing on the way local school officials respond to racial incidents. So eager, in fact, that the commission will staff and pay for a hearing if the state will hold one here.
The local commission has no authority over the school system, but the State Commission on Human Relations does. Earlier this month, the state commission issued a 68-page draft report accusing the school system of taking a "head in the sand" approach to racial incidents.
The state commission often holds a public hearing after making preliminary findings, but may not in this instance because of cuts in the state budget. A two-hour hearing would cost about $500 for the transcript alone, said Jennifer Burdick, state Human Relations Commission director.
The county commission has a budget of $4,000 and would like to spend some of that money on a hearing before its budget is also slashed. The local commission voted 9-2 last week to invite the state to hold a joint hearing here at county expense.
Getting the state to agree may be a problem.
"I do not have in my memory a precedent for holding a joint hearing" after the state has issued preliminary findings, Ms. Burdick said.
She said that despite its financial problems, the state commission might still vote to hold a public hearing at its own expense. The commission meets on Oct. 13. The other possibilities, she said, would be for the commission to work with the school system on an agreement or do nothing.
Meanwhile, local commissioner Jan Nyquist criticized the local school system last week for the way a task force report is worded. The school system intends to use the report as a blueprint for its human relations training.
Ms. Nyquist said she "objects strenuously" to the fact that the phrase "multicultural insensitivity" is being replaced in the report by the term "racism." Racism does not cover prejudice against gays and lesbians, she said.
"My big concern is that there is a very, very high suicide rate among gay and lesbian teens because the system does not know how to integrate them," Ms. Nyquist said.
She told the commission she personally counseled a Howard County youth who attempted suicide last year and later dropped out of school because the system here did not know how to accommodate him. She said the youth is now enrolled in Baltimore.
Ms. Nyquist said that in the month since she has been appointed to the commission, many people have called her to express concerns about gay and lesbian prejudices within the school system. Following her remarks, the commission voted to provide itself with training to deal with sexual orientation issues.
School spokeswoman Patti Caplan said the school system's human relations task force inserted the word "racism" in its report "to make it very clear that the school system will not tolerate racism."
Ms. Caplan said the report also makes it clear that the school system seeks to eliminate prejudice of every kind, including prejudice against gay and lesbian children.
In addition, school system counselors attended a seminar last year that focused solely on the question of how to meet and be open to the needs of gay and lesbian school children, Ms. Caplan said.