Nearly two years after the Maryland Commission on Human Relations first criticized the school system for taking a "head in the sand" approach to race-related incidents, it expects to file a final report on the way Howard County schools handle such incidents next month.
The final report had been expected several months ago, but staff shortages, investigations elsewhere and the feeling that county schools were making significant changes led to the delay in issuing a final report, said Henry Ford, the commission's deputy director.
But the commission's slow pace has drawn accusations that the state has dragged its feet to give the school system time to make changes and avoid criticism.
"It would be great if all of us had the luxury of, when being dTC investigated or studied, being given three years of grace period to undo our dubious deeds," said Roger Jones, the Howard County Human Rights Commission member who first asked the state commission to investigate.
Although he said there were indications that the school system has made progress in dealing with racial incidents, Mr. Jones added that "a reasonable person would have no problem . . . suspecting the Howard County school system is receiving preferential treatment relative to this report."
Mr. Ford rejects those suggestions, however.
"The final report will not substantially differ from the first report," he said. "The only thing that will make [the school system] look good is an epilogue. That's only fair. It would be misleading to issue a final report and to say they've done nothing."
In defending the delay in issuing the final report, Mr. Ford said that the commission last year cut 60 percent of its 100-member staff because of state budget problems, a move that devastated the pace of the commission's work.
"We had to make some tough decisions on what was important," he said.
Mr. Ford also said that the school system has made a number of changes in response to the initial draft report, saying that his staff has had regular contact with Superintendent Michael E. Hickey and Human Relations Coordinator Jacqueline Brown.
Dr. Hickey could not be reached for comment yesterday despite several attempts to reach him by telephone.
The state commission's initial 68-page report, issued in August 1992, criticized the school system for ignoring racial incidents, saying that teachers and principals failed to report dozens of racial incidents because they were uncomfortable dealing with them.
In many cases, the report stated, school officials and teachers assumed that students didn't understand their actions and that they were repeating things they learned at home.
The report also found that few teachers took advantage of the school system's multicultural awareness courses before they became mandatory last year. As a result, many white teachers felt uncomfortable teaching and discussing racial diversity, it stated.
The commission also criticized the school system's promotion and transfer of black administrators to schools with a large proportion of minority students.
That practice effectively limited the job opportunities for those administrators to schools in Columbia and Ellicott City, the report said, resulting in segregation and race-related incidents in the western and southern parts of the county.
The draft report came after a four-month study requested by the Howard County Human Rights Commission, prompted by complaints from two black parents in 1992.
One parent had complained that white classmates of her 12-year-old daughter sprayed the girl with disinfectant on a school bus, while another parent said that her second-grader was punched by white classmates and was the target of a racial epithet.
Since the state commission is sued its draft, school officials have moved to address the problems.
Dr. Brown, the human relations coordinator, was hired two years ago. She developed multicultural awareness programs for students, teachers and staff members and established human relations committees at each school.
Mr. Ford noted that Dr. Brown developed a new reporting system that made it a requirement for principals and other school employees to report human relations violations.