Montgomery County school system employes will go to class for two days, next week to learn more about the minority groups they are working with and teaching.
The multi-ethnic convention, which all 11,000 school employes are required to attend, will take place next Wednesday and Thursday in five different locations around the county, under the direction of the school system's Human Relations Department.
Last year's convention, the first ever, was widely criticized as being more like entertainment than a serious attempt to foster sensitivity to the needs of minority students.
"This isn't a convention, it's an ethnic county fair," charged Roscoe Nix, a former member of the county board of education. "They (the school system) should be having a cabaret. At least that way, they wouldn't pretend that they're trying to understand minorities in this county."
Participants will attend two general seminars on ethnic problems, one job-related session, a film called "Others, Ourselves," and a multi-ethnic luncheon and cultura presentation, according to Wilma Fairley, director of the Human Relations Department.
Topics range from "American Indian Science and Contributions to U.S. Ecology" to "Counseling Minority Students to Overcome Math Anxiety." More than 200 professors and consultants, most of whom live outside the Washington area, will lead the sessions, at a cost of $75,000 for their fees and traveling expenses.
"The topics are more academically oriented than last year's," noted Fairley. "They are more in depth."
Alpha Phi Alpha, a black profession fraternity to which Nix belongs, has not endorsed this year's convention and has asked its members, other than those employed by the school system, not to become involved in its planning.
The county's NAACP chapter has also come out against the convention.
"It is a joke to ask us to participate in this," said Nix. "It's all fun and frolic, after the board has created deep wounds in a large segment of the population in this county."
Much of the fraternity's discontent arises from the fact that last year's convention came soon after the school board abolished HR-18, a 45-hour black-studies course that all schools employes had been required to take.
"This (the convention) undermines the viability of HR-18," said Nix. "It is an expensive way to pretend the board cares about blacks in this county."
Fairley said she accepts the criticism of last year's convention, but denied that it was intended replace the black-studies course.
"The convention is not a substitute for HR-18," she said. "This is a 12-hour session on all minorities. It's just not the same thing at all."
Last year's convention included many arts-related topics such as African dancing, flamenco guitar and Yiddish theater. Participants chose 10 different sessions to attend.
"We tried to make last year (convention) fun," Fairley said. "We had a new superintendent and a lot of leftover bad feelings in this school system, and part of the purpose of the convention was to make people feel better.
"I understand Alpha Phi Alpha's concerns," continued Fairley, who is black. "But as head of this department, I see we have other minorities with other needs."
The percentage of minority enrollment in Montgomery County public schools has grown steady over the past 10 years.
In September 1979, of a total of 102,519 students, 11.4 percent of them were black Asians made up 4.7 percent of the school population; Hispanics, 3.4 percent and American Indians 0.2 percent.
The total minority enrollment was 19.6 percent in 1979, up from 12.6 percent in 1975 and 8.1 percent in 1970.
The increase reflects not only a greater number of minority students, but also an overall decline in enrollment. The school population in September 1980 will fall below 100,000 for the first time since 1963.
"We're not just teaching people how to deal with minorities for two days," said Fairley, "We want them to carry it through to their offices and curriculum."
Follow-up written evaluations and a half-day session, this fall are also planned.