Board mulling secular tone


Recognizing the school system's growing diversity, the Howard County Board of Education will consider renaming religious holidays on the yearly school calendar to eliminate all nonsecular references.

At last night's board meeting, school district spokeswoman Patti Caplan recommended the board move to a "purely secular calendar" by calling holiday periods - such as Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur - "board-approved" holidays.

As part of her duties, Caplan puts together the school calendar.

But Sandra H. French, the board chairman, said she was opposed to the idea because it is misleading. Only some days off from school are designated by the board, and most are set by state law.

"These are state-mandated holidays. They are not board-approved holidays," French said. "And if this is offensive to someone, then we need to take the whole list - Presidents Day and everything - and list every single one as a state-mandated holiday. ...

"Or we continue with this calendar in compliance with the law. I don't see it as a religious issue. I see it as a legal issue," French said.

Board member Jane B. Schuchardt agreed with French, but board member Laura Waters argued that they were missing the point.

"I don't think it's because people find them offensive," Waters said. "I think it's because with so many people coming into the school system, there are a lot of different religious days that we don't recognize as holidays."

Member Stephen C. Bounds was adamant that the calendar stay as is.

"Frankly, I think that changing the designations on the calendar as they have always existed does absolutely nothing to promote ethnic diversity in any way, shape or form," Bounds said.

He said that children still would be off from school for a religious reason whether it was called that or not.

"To me, that is the height of politically correct absurdity. And I certainly would not support that," Bounds said. "I think it's ridiculous."

The board will hold a public hearing on the 2001-2002 calendar Jan. 11 and approve its final version in February.

Also last night, the board heard suggestions from a committee on names for the new Alternative Learning Center, scheduled to open in 2002. The school is for disruptive and emotionally disturbed youths.

The names included Oak Meadow, Crossroads, Homewood Oaks and Deer Meadow. The committee preferred Homewood.

Homewood has historical and geographical significance, committee members said. Homewood Road, near where the school would be built, is named for the Homewood Estate, built by R.G. Harper Carroll in 1872. The Carroll family estate in Baltimore was also called Homewood, said Alice Haskins, who chairs the naming committee.

The committee suggested the board refrain from attaching the words Alternative Learning Center to the name.

"Everybody knows it's the alternative school," Haskins said. "We wanted to make that school as elegant as we could possibly make it."

The board will hold a public hearing on the school's name Dec. 14. Final approval will occur in January.

Board members voted not to support Republican Del. Donald E. Murphy's bill that would allow the board to impose property taxes to fund the school system's operating budget. The bill is among several proposed local measures to be discussed at a Nov. 16 public hearing sponsored by the county legislative delegation.

Two of the bills are sponsored by Del. Frank S. Turner, an east Columbia Democrat. One would require that board members be elected by district, instead of at-large.

School board members voted last night not to support those bills.

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