Heads Up -- and Out of the Sand HOWARD COUNTY

June 25, 1993

What a difference a year has made for human relations within the Howard County school system.

Just a summer ago, the Maryland Commission on Human Rights issued a report that criticized the Howard system's "head in the sand" reaction to hate-bias cases. The most publicized of the incidents involved a Klansman handing out literature at a county elementary school; a black girl getting sprayed with disinfectant by a white boy on a school bus, and swastikas being painted on school buildings.

No better illustration of the system's lax attitude was there than a statement made in the spring of 1992 by the schools' outgoing director of human relations. Upon her retirement after 17 years in the job, she proclaimed Howard schools were free of hate-bias incidents. Her remarks weren't exactly supported by county police, who were reporting at the time that the number of such incidents was increasing.

When Jacqueline Brown came on board last September as the new human relations chief for the system, she clearly had her work cut out. One school year later, she has earned high marks for her efforts, especially for developing consciousness-raising programs for students, parents and school employees alike.

With a background in psychological counseling, Ms. Brown stresses the praiseworthy philosophy that a hate or bias incident is an opportunity for education rather than for punishment. She believes that punishing young people for making a racial or ethnic slur -- the most common infraction among school hate cases -- is nowhere near as effective as showing them where they went wrong and how they can make it right.

Ms. Brown says she has sometimes found it difficult to get people to acknowledge these sorts of problems, let alone talk about them. Yet she and other school officials report that LTC substantial progress is being made. People are at last confronting issues that they once had been too uncomfortable to discuss.

Jackie Brown deserves a lot of credit for this shift in the county school system's attitude toward hate and bias cases. And so do the students, parents and school staffers in Howard County who have shown a willingness to keep their heads out of the sand.

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