In its operating budget proposal for fiscal year 2017, the Howard County Board of Education has set aside funding for a new position to oversee the school system's various efforts to promote multicultural understanding and inclusiveness in the county's schools.
Job duties for the new Coordinator of Diversity and Inclusion would tentatively include working with human resources officers to expand initiatives for increasing workforce diversity, evaluating and expanding current cultural proficiency training for teachers and staff and reviewing the school system's reporting system for racial and discriminatory acts. The coordinator, who would be a full-time employee in the school system's human resources department, would also make recommendations to the board on how best to develop a curriculum that is reflective of the school system's diverse student population.
The school board's unanimous vote to provide $148,632 to cover the salary and benefits of the new position, which was proposed by member Janet Siddiqui at a budget work session Thursday, was one of a series of diversity-related decisions made by the school system following the release of a video on social media three weeks ago of a Mount Hebron High School senior making racist remarks about African Americans.
Last week Superintendent Renee Foose announced the formation of a new Committee for Diversity and Inclusion made up of students, parents and staff members who will develop a plan to "expand and develop programs that promote positive behavior, respect for all cultures and diversity throughout the system." School officials have also announced the expansion of the work of the system's cultural proficiency team, which provides professional development surrounding issues of diversity and race relations to teachers and administrators.
The 30-second video started an ongoing dialogue between students, parents, teachers and administrators about the degree of cultural understanding and respect in the county's schools, and what can be done to improve both. This discussion has taken the form of student demonstrations at Mount Hebron, Hammond and Marriotts Ridge high schools, as well as a meeting between the school system's cultural proficiency team and more than 40 school administrators.
School spokesman John White said that the student in the video has been disciplined in accordance with a provision of the student code of conduct pertaining to off-campus behavior deemed disruptive to a school.
According to Helen Nixon, the school system's chief human resources officer who assisted Siddiqui with the proposal for the new diversity role, the job description could be impacted by the recommendations of the new Committee for Diversity and Inclusion, which school officials said will meet from March to May.
The board's proposed $858 million-plus operating budget, including the funding for the new coordinator position, must be approved by both the Howard County Council and County Executive before it is adopted.