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The Baltimore Sun

Schools panel discusses adding Muslim holiday

A majority of the Baltimore County public school system's calendar committee is in favor of closing schools on at least one of the most important Islamic holidays of the year, one member of the group said yesterday.

The idea, one of many collected during four recent meetings, must be forwarded to schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston. The superintendent would then decide whether to include the day among the countywide closings, such as Christmas and Yom Kippur, in the 2008-2009 proposed calendar. The school board makes the final decision on the calendar.

Brice Freeman, a schools spokesman who served as chairman of the calendar committee, said the group did not vote on specific recommendations but forwarded a list to Hairston of "outstanding issues" -- including the Islamic holiday -- raised by the panel of more than 20 members.

Yesterday, some members said it was not clear that the group had reached consensus on closing schools for Eid al-Fitr, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, a month of daylong fasting and reflection.

But Dr. Bash Pharoan, the Baltimore-area surgeon who has led the effort since 2004 to close schools for Islamic religious observances, issued an announcement yesterday morning that the group unanimously supported the change.

"The calendar committee members in their fourth and final meeting agreed unanimously that Islamic holidays should be treated equitably with the Jewish holidays as official school closing days for the secular reason of equity," Pharoan's announcement stated.

Another committee member, however, disputed Pharoan's statement.

"There wasn't a consensus," said Kevin Connelly, principal of Colgate Elementary. "Each person's input was welcome. Dr. Pharoan strongly advocated. As a group, we discussed [the school closing], but there was no consensus to add any official closings for religious observations."

In an interview later, Pharoan said he is hopeful that school officials will afford the Muslim community the same deference it has given to Jews and Christians.

"I believe this request is reasonable," said Pharoan, who added that Hairston refused to appoint him to the committee but allowed another member to cede her chair to him. "It's an issue of equity, which is protected by our Constitution. All Baltimore County school students should be treated equitably."

During last night's school board meeting, Hairston said the announcement distributed by Pharoan was "inaccurate." "No recommendation has been forwarded to me," Hairston said.

If the school system decides to close for the Islamic observance, it would become the only district in Maryland.

Gina Davis


Trial deferred for slaying suspect

A Baltimore County judge agreed yesterday to postpone the capital trial of a Baltimore man charged with killing a Security Square Mall merchant last year.

Defense attorneys for Brian Keith Rose made the request after complaining that they have received "a multitude" of evidence in recent weeks that prosecutors have had for months but did not turn over.

"They say, 'They're dragging their feet. We've got this trial date. Why can't we go forward? What's the problem?'" defense attorney Jennifer Aist told the judge, quoting prosecutors. "The problem is them."

She said prosecutors have turned over dozens of reports, interviews and other evidence since January -- the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Warren T. Fleming, 31, the owner of Security Square Mall's Cingular Wireless store.

Among the new items are crime scene and autopsy photographs, search warrants, recordings of 911 calls and DVD recordings of interviews with inmates at the county detention center who told prosecutors that Rose confessed in jail to the killing.

Aist asked Circuit Judge Susan Souder to prevent prosecutors from using any of the evidence at Rose's trial, which had been scheduled to begin in June.

Prosecutors countered that they have complied with the rules regarding the required disclosure of evidence to the defense -- a process called "discovery" -- and that they deliberately held back the interviews with the jailhouse informants to protect the witnesses' safety.

"To be labeled someone who informs ... is a label that places you at risk," said Jason G. League, an assistant state's attorney. He added that prosecutors have provided defense attorneys with "everything the law requires," as well as everything that the state's attorney's office's more liberal discovery policy "allows us to provide."

Before Souder could rule on the defense request to suppress the recently disclosed evidence, however, Rose's lawyers asked for the trial to be postponed.

Prosecutors did not object. Baltimore County Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II -- who hears all postponement requests -- agreed to reschedule the trial for October.

Rose, 22, is charged with first-degree murder, attempted carjacking and attempted armed robbery in the fatal shooting of Fleming, who was killed in January 2006 beside his four-door Mercedes in the shopping center's parking lot.

Jennifer McMenamin

Sparrows Point

House approves LNG bill

A proposal to prevent liquefied natural gas and oil facilities from being built in environmentally sensitive coastal areas, such as Sparrows Point, where a global power supply company wants to build a LNG terminal, has won approval by the state House of Delegates.

The legislation, endorsed by County Executive James T. Smith Jr., Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold and Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, would apply to coastal land in those jurisdictions deemed as Chesapeake Bay critical areas. The measure also must pass the Senate before the General Assembly ends April 9.

A similar ban was passed by Baltimore County Council and is being challenged in federal court by AES Corp., which wants to build a LNG facility at the former Bethlehem Steel shipyard and contends that federal energy law trumps the county ordinance.

Local lawmakers, including Smith, said the state measure would stop federal regulators from giving AES permission to build the LNG plant on Sparrows Point. The House approved the bill by a vote of 113-22 late Monday.

Laura Barnhardt

Events or news items for the Baltimore County Digest may be submitted to baltco.news@baltsun.com. Information should be sent at least 10 days in advance of the event.

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