Schools' human relations director retires


The school system's longtime human relations director will retire at the end of this month, and school officials say they hope to redefine the job so that it involves more responsibility in handling hate-bias incidents.

Kathleen Griffin, human relations director for 17 years, had recently been criticized for mishandling complaints of racial incidents.

She submitted her resignation in April as part of an early retirement program, according to school officials. Her employment officially ends July 1. Griffin was out of town this week and unavailable for comment.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said she left to pursue other interests. "She had 17 years of history in that role, and she really developed a role that probably began as a token," he said.

"Kathleen was good in the investigative end -- in fact, many parents have called in to say so," he said. "We want somebody to do more analysis."

Griffin became the target of critics this spring who said she had done little to handle hate-bias incidents that occurred on school grounds.

In April, she told The Howard County Sun that she had never personally dealt with such an incident in her job, and claimed no incident motivated by race had ever occurred in the schools. In fact, police statistics showed that the number of hate-bias incidents has grown significantly at the schools in recent years.

Her departure comes as the school board is considering a proposal to discipline and educate students who are involved in hate-bias incidents.

So far this year, eight hate-bias incidents have been recorded by police, most of them involving the spray-painting of racial epithets on school walls.

Hickey said the person who assumes the position -- which has been downgraded to a specialist for budgetary reasons -- will work on staff development and keep track of hate-bias incidents that occur at schools, ranging from spray-painting to arguments to fights. In the past, the school system kept no formal records of incidents, and Griffin has said she does not keep track of them.

Reva Bryant, personnel office director, said she'll head a six-member committee to interview candidates this month. She said the committee will make a recommendation to Hickey next Tuesday.

Roger Jones, chairman of the county Human Rights Commission, said he hopes the next human relations specialist would not be a "carbon copy" of Griffin.

"Kathleen Griffin was allowed to perform in the manner she did because the school system wanted her to," he said. "The school system didn't want the public to know what was happening. It needs somebody who would actively investigate and pursue conflict resolution."

Nat Alston, a parent coordinator of the Black Student Achievement Program, said downgrading the title to "specialist" would give the position less clout, but he hopes whoever fills the position will affect change.

"It has to be somebody effective," he said. "It has to be somebody who will make a positive change in the racial climate."

The deadline to apply for the job, which pays from $38,000 to $57,000, is today.

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