Schools get new human relations chief


A Bowie State University professor has been named the school system's new human relations coordinator, a redefined job that entails greater vigilance of hate-bias incidents.

Jacqueline F. Brown, associate professor of counseling psychology in the university's Adler-Dreikurs Institute of Human Relations, will start Sept. 14.

The announcement follows the Aug. 18 release of a Maryland Commission on Human Relations report, which criticized Howard County schools for taking a "head in the sand" approach to dealing with racial incidents.

Kathleen Griffin, the school system's human relations director for 17 years, resigned in April as part of an early retirement program. She had been criticized for mishandling complaints of racial incidents.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said last week he generally agreed with the findings in the 68-page draft report, which was begun at the request of the county Human Rights Commission after a series of hate-bias incidents on school grounds.

Mr. Hickey said he plans to attend a Sept. 8 meeting when the Maryland commission will discuss recommendations outlined in the report.

"As far as the general thrust [of the report], I agree with it," Mr. Hickey said. "We're taking some steps that will address that directly."

The appointment of Ms. Brown, which was announced during a Board of Education meeting Thursday, is one step in his goal to improve and clarify the system for reporting racial and ethnic incidents, said Mr. Hickey."I decided to go outside the [county school] system since we are making a real change," he said. There were between 10 and 20 applicants for the $78,680 job.

Ms. Brown will bring "some real strengths" to the school system, he said.

"She has outstanding credentials and she knows our system quite well."

Ms. Brown, who is the director of the Kellogg Foundation-funded Violence Prevention Education Project at the university, has worked with the school system's Staff Development Center and local parent groups, school officials said.

In addition to investigating racial incidents, Dr. Brown will coordinate staff workshops and work with other school departments to improve human relations, said spokeswoman Patti Caplan.

The superintendent has said he plans to promote better understanding among students of all races and creeds by establishing human relations committees at every school and continuing multicultural curriculum.

The Commission on Human Relations report criticized the schools on numerous points, saying that dozens of racial incidents had gone unreported in the schools, and that principals and teachers have avoided reporting incidents because they are uncomfortable handling them.

The report also said that while the schools offer many continuing education courses and seminars on multiculturalism, few teachers take them. Even the schools' new "rights" proposal, written to address some of the problems, falls short by giving principals too much discretion in defining hate incidents, the commission said.

In the past three years, at least 16 racial incidents have been documented in the schools, including several assaults. A student sprayed disinfectant on a black female during a school bus ride last winter. Earlier this year, a black elementary pupil was punched and subjected to racial slurs at West Friendship Elementary.

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