Fights, Rights and Relations HOWARD COUNTY

January 18, 1993

With the appointment of a new human relations director for Howard County public schools and the naming of a Wilde Lake High School senior to the county's Human Rights Commission, the local government and school system have recently taken encouraging steps to address the nasty problem of hate and bias incidents at area schools.

The incidents have been well-documented over the past year: A Klansman handing out literature at a county elementary school. A black girl sprayed with disinfectant by a white boy on a school bus. Swastikas painted on school buildings.

It didn't help matters that the school system had, in the damning phrase from a state study of Howard schools, a "head in the sand" way of reacting to hate-bias cases. A prime illustration came when the system's previous human relations director, on her retirement last spring after 17 years in the job, claimed that the schools were free of hate-bias incidents. Yet police were reporting at the time that the number of such incidents had been on the increase.

Nor has it been uplifting to see members of the Human Rights Commission feuding in public as if the second word in their organization's name began with an "F" instead of an "R."

But there's hope. Jackie Brown came aboard last fall as the system's new human relations chief and hasn't been shy about bringing folks together to confront differences. And two weeks ago, 17-year-old Shamim Sinnar became the first student member of the Human Rights Commission, vowing to bring a much-needed youth's viewpoint to the panel.

Shamim will have all the privileges of a commissioner -- except a voting voice. How ridiculous. It suggests the other commissioners want her only as a lip-service symbol so they can boast they're tuned in to kids' concerns. Shamim appears to have far more to offer. She should have a vote. Doesn't she deserve that much for having to work as hard as her commission colleagues?

Owning up to hate-related incidents doesn't make Howard County any different from most other subdivisions. County officials, however, have tended to be inordinately lax about attacking the problem. The presence of Jackie Brown and Shamim Sinnar indicates that county leaders have at least gotten their heads out of the sand.

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