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Parents demand more support for black students


Parents of students in the county schools' Black Student Achievement Program took educators to task Monday, saying their children feel alienated in the school system and suggesting dozens of ideas for strengthening support for minority students.

During the three-hour meeting at the Board of Education building in Ellicott City, parents listed about 50 recommendations for the school system to improve test scores of black students and increase awareness of black history.

the recommendations are passed, teachers would view "Eyes on the Prize," principals would hire more black coaches, and administrators would have to track hiring practices of black teachers.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey and other administrators seemed receptive to some of the ideas. Hickey said he'll meet with other school officials and present some findings to the school board, though he gave no timetable.

"Parents hear the same things over and over again. They want action," said Bobbie Crews, a parent coordinator.

Parents criticized officials, saying some of the ideas had been presented in the past, but the schools took no action.

A start to addressing some of the needs and problems of black students would be to expand the BSAP program to all schools, parents said. The program to date has been offered mostly in schools with large black student populations.

"In those schools, we find parents more active. We find students feel more empowerment," said Mildred Boyd, another parent coordinator.

Parents are asking the superintendent and the school board to:

* Ensure that no less than 15 percent of all materials taught in schools or placed in media centers be about or written by blacks, partly to eliminate inaccurate information about black history and culture.

* Establish an affirmative action procedure that requires school officials to give reasons if they do not promote or hire black job candidates. Affirmative action means "increasing a pool that expands a level playing field," said Nat Alston, a parent who urged the school system to recruit, track and hire black students to return to the county to teach.

* Hire more black coaches and meet with student-athletes and their parents to discuss recruitment procedures and academic schedules, in part to achieve more racially balanced athletic programs and more academic support for black athletes.

* Eliminate "skills" -- or lower-level -- classes, which parents say contain a disproportionately high number of black students. "Certain teachers direct students to take classes that are not challenging for them," Crews said. "We're saying put them in challenging classes, not just classes to just pass them by."

* Require educators to read several books on black culture and history and see a series of videos -- including "Eyes on the Prize," an award-winning documentary on the civil rights movement -- to encourage cultural awareness.

* Provide information to all employees on the schools' Human Relations policy and to dismiss those who don't comply with it.

Parents said changes in curriculum and practices would enhance self-esteem and motivation of black students and staff, decrease the number of dropouts, and increase awareness on black history and culture. "Some of these programs won't cost anything," said Alston. "Basically, it's a change in behavior and attitude."

Hickey said some recommendations -- like requiring educators to read about a dozen books -- were not feasible. But he agreed other suggestions required little money to implement. "What it really means is the school and the parents and maybe some teachers would volunteer time to do some of those things," including forming homework clubs, help sessions and study groups, he said.

Hickey said the school system has strove to implement some BSAP recommendations. In the past five years, he said he has promoted 40 blacks to administrative positions and has sent recruiters to the predominantly black University of Maryland Eastern Shore to hire minority student-teachers. "We try to make progress."

He said he recently established an ad hoc committee -- consisting of BSAP facilitators Gloria Washington and Lynne Newsome -- to develop a plan for staff development and an estimate of resources, priorities and needs as they relate to multicultural programs and minority students.

While the meeting -- attended by about 40 people -- was billed to present recommendations, some parents used it as a sounding board to express concerns about the school system, saying they believed their children were being shortchanged.

Outdated textbooks and unqualified teachers give students of all races wrong information on black culture and history, parents said. They asked the school system to ban "Exploring a Changing World," a widely used social studies textbook they say depicts Africa and Africans inaccurately.

"This is one of the most insulting and demeaning texts I have ever seen," said Boyd, who held up the book and showed a page where Egypt and other countries were not considered a part of Africa. "It gives you the impression that half of Africa doesn't belong in Africa."

Other parents questioned the sparse number of minority teachers in western Howard, where several racial incidents have occurred and a lack of sensitivity of some white teachers has been alleged by some black students.

"The reality of the situation from those students I've spoken with is they sense a feeling of rejection, that they're not important or they don't really exist and their history isn't really important," said Natalie Woodson, another parent coordinator.

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