A plan that would eliminate the county elementary schools' Black Student Achievement Program liaison because of budget cutbacks is drawing sharp criticism from parents, who say the decision would undermine opportunities and progress for black students.
More than 80 parents have written letters protesting the proposal, and about a dozen of them say they will testify at Tuesday's school board meeting.
"We're incensed and outraged," said Walt Shears, a parent. "As far as I'm concerned, it would be better to cut material than individuals."
School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's $184 million
budget for next year would eliminate 34 positions, among them the BSAP liaison. A similar job overseeing middle and high school students would remain.
The BSAP facilitator -- whose salary is $48,000 -- workswith elementary school children, their parents, teachers and administrators, and also helps develop the curriculum for the non-profit organization Helping Hand, which conducts Saturday School for students who need help.
Parents say the cutback comes at a time when black students as a group are lagging in SAT scores and failing basic competency in the state-mandated functional tests of reading, math, writingand citizenship. Instead of stepping up efforts, the school system is dismantling the one program to help raise test scores, they say.
Of the close to 2,700 students in BSAP countywide, more than 1,000 are in elementary schools, including Bryant Woods, Dasher Green, Guilford, Jeffers Hill, Phelps Luck, Swansfield and Talbott Springs. Theseschools have black student populations ranging from 18 percent to 37percent.
"None of the positions that have been removed were desired to be removed," said Associate Superintendent James R.McGowan. "The reductions were across the board."
McGowan is unsure what changes would be made to the BSAP if the job is eliminated. Other jobs to be cut are a part-time psychologist supervisor, three first-grade talent pool teachers and eight secretaries and clerks.
Mildred Boyd, aparent who works with the elementary school liaison and Saturday School, said cutting the position would hurt black students countywide.
"If you cut that program, you're dooming Howard County to problemsin the future," she said. "What people are not looking at is that the black student program is the only program that serves the African-American student."
While black students represent 14 percent of thestudent population countywide, they represent about one-third of those suspended from school each year, county school records show.
The number of racial incidents in the county and the need for multicultural education make the BSAP program even more important, said Boyd, parent of an Oakland Mills High School student.
Within the past year, the Ku Klux Klan has handed out hate literature in Lisbon and a skinhead group has distributed a hate newspaper on Columbia lawns three times.
Most recently, a white student sprayed disinfectant on a black Glenwood Middle School student, and a parent of a West Friendship Elementary School student complained to the school board her son was subject to racial slurs in school.
In response to the high suspension rate and these recent in-school racial incidents, the Howard County Human Rights Commission last week sent a letter asking the Maryland Commission on Human Rights to investigate whether the school system or the school board violated constitution
al rights of the students.
Roger W. Jones, chairman of the county commission, wrote, "We are beset with an epidemic of racially motivated incidents which seem to have permeated this educational system. In my opinion, this school system, relative to racial and ethnic sensitivity, is out of control."
The state commission is expected to discuss the complaint this week.
Eliminating the BSAP job would further erode support forminority students in the schools, critics say.
Parents are afraidthe one facilitator left will be stretched too thinly, running from school to school, unable to be effective or handle problems that arise.
"We value the program," McGowan said. "That's why we continue to fund it and staff it, up until this year."
Valerie Harvey, whose6-year-old daughter attends Jeffers Hill, said the BSAP facilitator has encouraged many more black parents to become involved in their children's schoolwork.
Charles Palmer, whose 8-year-old daughter also goes to Jeffers Hill, said BSAP is more than an academic program.
"What it's initiated to do is change the climate in school," he said. "Teachers aren't used to dealing with non-white children. They don't know how to approach them, how to relate to them. One of the important things BSAP provides is training for teachers and administrators."
Shears, who acts as a mentor to a black fifth-grader, fears that eliminating the job could be a first step to dropping the entire BSAP. He is also afraid the cutback will affect families headed by single parents, "those who work day and night to keep food on the table and body and soul intact."
Single parents don't have much time to involve themselves in their children's schoolwork, and with no facilitator around, they may not involve themselves at all, he said.
"Thesad thing is, BSAP has the potential to reach so many students," he said. "Now we'll be working in the school system with no advocate in it."
NOTE: SEE RELATED STORY (RESIDENTS DISCUSS WAYS TO COMBAT RACIALINCIDENTS).