Fostering mutual respect among all in school system is proposed civility policy's aim



Good behavior - by all - may soon be a requirement in Howard County schools.

Under a proposed civility policy, which is scheduled for board approval in September, with an implementation date in January, students, staff members and parents would be encouraged to interact with mutual respect.

"One of the goals was to set clear expectations for all of our staff members, students and community members," said Sue Mascaro, chairman of the civility policy committee and director of staff relations for the school system.

The policy will cover language, actions, volume of voice during conversations and appropriate telephone and e-mail language and behavior at school sites and school-related events.

Joshua Kaufman, chairman of the school board, said the policy sets principles for behavior and personal responsibility.

"It's setting high expectations for behavior," said Kaufman, who added that the policy fits perfectly with the school system's goal of providing a safe and nurturing environment.

Although the policy does not have specific consequences, conflicting parties are encouraged to participate in mediation to resolve disputes, Mascaro said.

"Our goal was to focus on resolving things at the lowest level," Mascaro said, adding that existing policies will dictate punishments for more serious behavior. "We try to resolve issues by sitting down and talking with the individuals."

Although there is no real way for the school system to punish a parent or community member for bad behavior, Kaufman said the policy will be a way of showing parents the right way to act in front of their children.

"We recognize that everyone does not agree, but there is a way to be civil and respectful without uncivil behavior - insulting, inappropriate language, physical confrontation," said Mike Williams, coordinator of athletics for the school system.

Williams said Howard County has been fortunate not to have experienced any of the uncivil incidents that have affected sports events around the country.

"Our community realizes that our athletic program is an enriching program for our kids," he said. "They know how important it is to get along with other people and to deal with adversity in an appropriate manner."

The civility policy committee met nine times since being formed in November. The committee, made up of a mix of staff members, parents and a student, also contacted school systems that have civility policies in California, Colorado, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Mascaro said many of the school systems had policies that solely addressed parent behavior.

"Many of the other policies were called parental civility policies," Mascaro said. "We wanted to take an inclusive approach."

The board will hold a public hearing on the proposed policy Aug. 17. The policy is tentatively set for a vote in September.

Mediation set

The school system is scheduled to enter into mediation with a developer to determine the value of land needed for an Ellicott City elementary school.

The system was granted preliminary approval in January by the Department of Planning and Zoning that allowed work to begin at the site. In May, the system received a partial summary judgment that awarded it the land.

A jury trial is scheduled for Aug. 7 in Howard County Circuit Court to determine the value of the property if mediation fails. The school is scheduled to open in August 2007.

The dispute involves developer J. Chris Pippen, who owns the 1.3 acres on Montgomery Road, across from Long Gate shopping center. The land would provide an access road to the school.

Pippen planned to use the land to allow him eventually to build a senior housing complex next to property owned by the YMCA. After the school system offered Pippen "fair market value" for the land, Pippen refused the offer, according to Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin.

The school board unanimously approved a resolution in September that gave Cousin authority to pursue condemnation proceedings.

Pippen did not return telephone messages.

Transition planning

Before the school board's expansion from five to seven members in December, the board is forming committees to make the transition more efficient and easier.

Board members have said the committee system will allow them to be well-versed in a variety of topics.

On Thursday, the board decided the committees will include finance, audit and budget panels; a facilities and planning panel, which will address redistricting and the capital budget; and a curriculum and assessment committee, which will deal with myriad high-stake assessment tests that students are required to take during the school year.

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