Principal addresses racial bias at Anne Arundel high school

Plan to ease tensions revealed

parents urged to become more involved

June 06, 2000|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Southern High School Principal Cliff Prince spoke publicly for the first time last night at a community meeting in Friendship, calling on parents to become more involved in the school and explaining plans to help ease racial tensions that recently flared.

The meeting at Carters United Methodist Church was the second time parents and community members gathered to discuss reports from black students that racial slurs were frequently directed at them by other students.

At the meeting, which drew a racially mixed crowd of about 50, Prince said the school will put up multicultural displays, send staff members to diversity training and try to involve students who do not participate in school activities.

Some parents at the meeting said the problem is not just student or parental involvement. They said staff members often are not welcoming, noting that secretaries sometimes do not answer phones and faculty members do not return calls.

"I'm assertive, and I don't feel welcomed," said Debbie FitzSimmonds, whose daughter just graduated from Southern. "If you are a loudmouth mother, you are not welcomed."

Prince said that the school is working to help teachers and faculty members become more aware and sensitive to racial tensions, and that a number of suggestions from students, including the addition of more multicultural programs, would be included in the school development plan next year.

He said students mentioned in group sessions that they wanted more parental involvement. He also said the school will be evaluated next year for accreditation and that parental involvement is an important part of that process.

"The committee will come in and see, `Do parents know what is going on?'" Prince said after the meeting.

"The accreditation is a major concern," he said. "That's why I wanted to suggest what we are doing here is a part of that."

A small group of parents and community leaders met with the principal in a closed-door session two weeks ago to talk about reports from black students that racial slurs were being directed at them and scrawled on walls and lockers at the school.

The students also complained that Prince had twice allowed a white student to sing a song about lynching at a multicultural day assembly, and that black students were being punished more harshly and for lesser offenses than white students.

The students, some parents and faculty members had also complained that Prince was unresponsive when they brought the matters to his attention.

Prince, who is black, has refused to comment on the reports since they became public, but the school system immediately took action, sending in two new administrators, an additional police officer and a community liaison to help ease tensions in the Harwood school.

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