Reward offered for information about death threat to Parham

Letter followed decision by Arundel superintendent to bus pupils for 2 years

March 26, 2000|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

Southern Anne Arundel County civic groups opposed to busing children to school in Annapolis posted a $1,000 reward yesterday for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the author of a racially tinged death threat against county school Superintendent Carol S. Parham.

The threat was in response to Parham's decision last month to bus 340 pupils from Mayo Elementary School to an unoccupied wing of Annapolis Middle School for two years while a new Mayo Elementary is being built.

Although some opponents have made negative comments about the racial makeup of Annapolis Middle, which has a large minority population, others say they are worried about the additional time their children would spend on school buses.

The death threat damages opponents' credibility, Robin Greulich, head of a Mayo parents' group appealing Parham's decision, said yesterday.

"None of the parents at Mayo Elementary or the Mayo peninsula residents involved in this issue have ever made any racial comment regarding this proposed relocation. We want them to catch whoever did this," she said.

The parents' group and nine other Mayo peninsula civic community associations have contributed to the fund, she said.

"We want our disgust at this action to be backed by some of the funds we've raised for the appeal," Greulich said. "This kind of racial hate mail should not be tolerated by our community or any other."

Parham received the typed threat Tuesday and notified Anne Arundel County police. Police disclosed the threat Friday. They did not release copies of the letter.

Lt. Jeffrey A. Kelly, a county police spokesman, said Friday that the department has "some very serious hate crime investigators assigned to this."

Yesterday, another police spokesman, Officer Thomas O'Connor, had no updates. Parham could not be reached.

Mayo Elementary, in the midst of a waterfront community between the South and Rhode rivers, is one of the oldest schools in the county, built in 1935 with additions in 1959 and 1963. Its pupils have posted some of the highest achievement test scores in the county, and it was designated a National Blue Ribbon school for academic excellence in 1997.

The small school might not be able to accommodate the expected population boom as development continues on the peninsula.

Annapolis Middle is on the southwestern border with the city and draws many of its pupils from nearby public housing communities. Because of its low enrollment, it is used regularly to house elementary pupils whose schools are being renovated or rebuilt.

Pupils from Annapolis Elementary School, near City Dock in the town's Historic District, moved to Annapolis Middle for two years in the 1980s, and those from Parole Elementary, at the western edge of the city, moved there in the early 1990s.

Mayo residents who were willing to discuss the death threat yesterday said they are baffled and angered. "That clearly is not the feeling of the majority of the families down here," said Jackie Baker-Poe, whose 3-year-old daughter will attend Mayo's preschool.

"I think it was somebody trying to stir up trouble to hurt our cause," said Kerrie Flaherty, another parents' committee member. She said she is convinced that the letter was written by an outsider. "It wasn't somebody from our community."

The drive from Mayo, near the end of the peninsula, to Annapolis Middle on Forest Drive takes about 45 minutes, she said. That could reduce the parental involvement that is a hallmark of Mayo's success, and it would mean that children would arrive home after dark during part of the year, some parents said.

Some people are not convinced that transportation is the issue. "I can't help the way people are," said Leon Curtis, who lives off Central Avenue near the school.He contends that racism is involved. "It's the parents messing it up for their kids. They ought to let the kids go to school and tell the adults not to get in the way." he said.

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