Howard County Public School System Superintendent Renee Foose gave few details about the status of the Harriet Tubman School at the Board of Education and County Council's quarterly meeting on Wednesday.
"It's too soon to tell," Foose said, when County Councilwoman Jen Terrasa asked about the school system's time frame for vacating the Tubman School.
For more than a decade, members of the county's legislatiive delegation and the Harriet Tubman Foundation have urged the school system to turn over the Tubman School, which is used for school system office and storage space, so that the Foundation can turn the school into a cultural center. The Tubman School was a black high school that closed down in 1965 after all of the county's schools were desegregated.
"We're working with the county executive to find a suitable site for our maintenance department that is currently occupying the Tubman building," Foose said.
Terrasa pushed for a more detailed timeline from the school board.
"I thought there was a promise to turn it over in 18 months," she said.
At a meeting with the county's legislative delegation in June, Foose said that the school system would turn over the Tubman building in 18 months, according to delegation member Frank Turner.
In response to Terassa's statement, Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Ann De Lacy said, "Was that a promise?"
County Councilman Calvin Ball urged the school board to share more information about the status of the Tubman School, so that the Council can support the school system in turning the building over.
"My intent in asking these questions is to see how we can help support you moving forward," he said. "We do recognize you have those needs, and I want to find out what we can do to address these issues and concerns."
Board Chairwoman Janet Siddiqui responded by reiterating the board's intent to return the Tubman school to the Foundation.
"The Board is committed in returning this building back to the Foundation," she said. "Whether it's 6 months, 12 months, 18 months, or 24 months, we’re going to work with the Council and the County, in terms of making sure that building is where it should be."
"Six months, 12 months, 18 months, 24 months? 18 months was [the superintendent's] promise," Turner said after the meeting.
After discussion about the Tubman building, Ball asked the Board of Education about the racial disparity in suspension rates at Howard County schools.
"After reading a very concerning article, I thought this might be an opportunity to really hear from you," he said. "I realize that this is a national issue, but I wanted to talk about it and see what we can do to help."
In September, the Howard County Times reported that black students were seven times more likely to be suspended than white students during the 2013 to 2014 school year, according to data supplied by the Howard County school system.
Foose said that she thought the article was one-sided and did not represent the school system's efforts to reduce the disparity.
"We are doing a lot to fix this issue, and the suspension rate is going down," she said. "It comes down to belief system and how we approach our young people."
Frank Eastham, executive director of school improvement and administration, talked about the programs that the school system has implemented to reduce the disparity in suspension rates, such as the Positive Behavioral Intervention System, 123 Magic, and Restorative Practices. All three programs emphasize encouragement, engagement, and support of students over punishment, especially suspension.
"When we look at our suspension rates from 2011 to 2014, the disparity grew smaller amongst younger black students," he said. "While that improvement is small, I think we're headed in the right direction."
This story has been corrected to attribute a quote to Chairwoman Janet Siddiqui.