The school system's human rights record is expected to come under close scrutiny tonight at a public forum in the county office building.
Human Rights Commission Chairwoman Jan Nyquist hopes the 7:30 p.m. meeting in the County Council chambers will be more than a gripe session for parents and students.
"Unless a parent had a problem, that parent might not be aware of some of the great programs going on" in the school system, she said. "This is an opportunity to become aware of some of the good things going on."
First, however, parents, students and other county residents will have a chance to say how they think the school system is performing in the area of human rights.
Speakers, who can begin signing up at 7 p.m., will be given three minutes each to share their opinions until about 8:45 p.m.
Following the public speaker portion, School Board Chairman Dana F. Hanna, School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, and Human Relations Coordinator Jacqueline F. Brown will offer their perspectives.
Ms. Nyquist said she expected the school officials to speak from a prepared text rather than respond to issues raised in the public portion of the forum.
"We don't want to respond off-the-cuff," she said. "There are a lot of concerns and we want to take time to address them."
Human rights commissioners plan to meet with school officials after the forum, Ms. Nyquist said, to discuss the issues raised and prepare a report to the public. Ms. Nyquist said she hopes the report will be ready by the end of the school year.
Meanwhile, she said, county libraries will carry tapes of tonight's forum. It will be shown live on Cable 15, the county government channel.
The County Human Rights Commission does not have jurisdiction over the school system, but commissioners have nonetheless expressed concern about how the school system handles human rights complaints.
In August, the Maryland Commission on Human Relations accused the county school system of taking a "head in the sand" approach to racial incidents, claiming that some problems were ignored by principals and teachers who were uncomfortable dealing with them.
In January, an Ellicott City mother told the Human Rights Commission she believes the county's elementary schools divide students by class and race.
Also in January, Wilde Lake senior Shamim Sinnar, the 17-year-old student member of the Human Rights Commission, expressed concern that in her senior class picture, students had divided themselves by race. Blacks sat on one side, everyone else sat on the other side.
Ms. Sinnar said she didn't know whether the seating was accidental or intentional.