The Howard County school board and the Howard chapter of the NAACP vowed this week to communicate better and work together to eliminate the disparities in achievement and discipline between black students and other students.
But their Tuesday night meeting appears to have been a violation of the Maryland open-meetings law, which requires that public bodies give "reasonable advance notice" of open meetings. School officials said they forgot to announce the meeting until hours before it was to occur.
The meeting was a follow-up to a news conference held in the summer by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, at which a few of its leaders charged that there was "institutional racism" in the county, including the school system.
At the time, school board members reacted angrily, saying the school system had worked hard to improve human relations and urging NAACP leaders to produce specific evidence.
Tuesday night's meeting was more conciliatory, those who attended said. School board members and NAACP leaders agreed that the two sides need to listen to each other more.
"The most important aspect of the meeting is that both groups are going to work together to better our community and our collaboration with each other," said Susan Cook, the board's chairwoman.
"We agree that we all have the same goal of providing the best education for all of our students, and in order to do that we have to be more understanding of each other and have more trust of each other."
Natalie Woodson, chairwoman of the NAACP's education committee, agreed, saying, "We appreciate their concerns. The NAACP will continue to do all that we can to give our perspective and help the school system improve the academic performance of all students."
The meeting tackled a number of issues, including the attitudes of teachers and staff members toward children, tracking of low-achieving students, suspensions, violence and the disparity in the test results of black students and other students, Cook said.
The meeting had been planned before a fight last week involving students outside Wilde Lake High School -- which had racial undertones -- and the fight was not a major topic of discussion, those who attended said.
No solutions to problems were reached, but board members and NAACP leaders agreed to try to talk more frequently about their problems, Cook said.
Before a public meeting, the school system typically posts a notice on a bulletin board in the school system headquarters at least a week in advance and sends notices to local newspapers for publication.
Notice of Tuesday's meeting was not posted or sent to local news media until Tuesday afternoon -- after a reporter asked school officials why orange cones had been set out to reserve board members' parking spaces when no meeting had been announced.
Patti Caplan, a spokeswoman for the schools, said her public information office was busy dealing with the death of a boy at Mount View Middle School Friday and didn't realize until midday Tuesday that the notice for the meeting had not gone out.
"We just slipped," Caplan said. "There was miscommunication. We apologize."
Pub Date: 10/24/96