Howard Week

December 21, 2003

Parents discuss allegations of bias at Centennial High

Despite state and Howard County regulations prohibiting racial discrimination against students, African-American parents say it still goes on - even at Centennial High School, where high test scores make it easy to believe all is well.

"Everything gets thrown up under the rug because of it," said Ernie Gibbs, who has a sophomore daughter at the Ellicott City school. Gibbs and about a dozen other black Centennial parents, all members of the Parents Council for Black Students, gathered Dec. 10 with a representative from the Howard County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to share their stories and formulate a plan.

They are demanding immediate action in the form of zero-tolerance policies, staff diversity training and student assemblies outlining the damage done through prejudice.

CA board votes against rebating surplus revenue

After members of the Columbia Association board of directors listened to about 20 residents lobby them to refund surplus funds collected in assessment revenue or keep the money, the board voted against rebating $2.6 million to property owners from the annual charge.

The decision came Dec. 11 after 1 1/2 hours of public testimony on the issue, with many of the more than 55 residents in the audience wearing stickers reading "fairness input respect," or holding signs with slogans such as "stop liening on us" or "balance the budget, refund the surpluses, lower the rate."

Board member Phil Marcus of Kings Contrivance proposed refunding the $2.6 million that was above the budgeted surplus for 2003. But some board members said they didn't have enough information to approve a rebate.

Tenants demand safer conditions at complex

Tenants at a Savage apartment complex say the landlord and Howard County authorities have failed to adequately address substandard living conditions in some of the units at River Island Apartments, including the documented presence of a toxic mold.

Although county health and inspection officials say the problem has been resolved, Republican state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader and the mother of a former tenant - who has become an unofficial advocate for residents - maintain that conditions at the complex are deplorable.

An environmental testing company, hired four months ago by the mother of a former resident, detected elevated levels of the mold stachybotrys. The tester also found that the ventilation system was dirty and improperly installed.

Residents voice concern over rezoning proposals

Howard County residents expressed concern at a public hearing Monday night about proposed zoning changes that they say could influence where they eat their snowballs and how they live out their retirement years.

During the comprehensive rezoning process, which takes place every 10 years, the county reconsiders land use, establishing the future of development from Elkridge to Lisbon. Most of the 3,000 acres up for rezoning are concentrated in Howard's eastern half, particularly 1,740 acres in the U.S. 1 corridor. Monday was the deadline for property owners to submit applications to rezone land.

School officials question force used in student arrest

Howard County school officials expressed concern Tuesday about the level of force used against a Glenelg High student who said he was thrown to the ground, handcuffed and arrested by a school-based police officer in front of his classmates after refusing to switch seats in biology class.

"We take this matter very seriously," said Michael Martirano, director of kindergarten through 12th grade for half of the county's schools. Martirano met with the boy's family members Tuesday along with their attorney and representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Sophomore Marvin Ebrahimzadeh, 15, "was badly bruised on the forehead and body and wrists" during the arrest, said Rizwan Mowlana, the council's executive director. School system spokeswoman Patti Caplan said Ebrahimzadeh was "insubordinate" and "defiant," refusing not only to move from his seat, but also to accompany an assistant principal to the office.

County gets over $200,000 in Community Legacy grants

Howard County will use more than $200,000 in state Community Legacy funds to help future low- and moderate-income county homebuyers and to investigate the relocation needs of residents and businesses in the U.S. 1 corridor.

The local awards, announced last week, are part of a statewide total of nearly $9 million in Community Legacy grants to promote vibrant communities in declining neighborhoods. The program was launched by then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening in 2001 as part of his Smart Growth strategy.

Policewoman's lawsuit against county settled

Howard County officials have settled a lawsuit filed by a woman police officer who said a "locker-room atmosphere" in the Police Department cultivated the sexual harassment she suffered from her supervisor and that police commanders retaliated against her when she complained.

The settlement between the county and Cpl. Linda Freeman led to the dismissal of the officer's civil rights action in U.S. District Court in Baltimore this fall, but neither side would disclose the terms last week.

The lawsuit, which was filed against the county in March and sought $500,000 in damages, alleged a series of actions that Freeman termed "sexual harassment" and police officials called "improper conduct" by the officer's sergeant, a 20-year veteran who retired in December 2002 at the rank of corporal, according to court papers and officials.

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