To Tebbie Stewart, whose husband is an accomplished oil painter, a picture is worth a thousand words.

That's why Stewart said she was so outraged when she turned to the March entry in the 1987-88 Howard County school calendar, which is displayed in county classrooms and mailed to the homes of the system's 26,700 students.

"I jumped straight up," said Stewart, a Wilde Lake Middle School teacher. "It was unbelievable. How could they allow this to happen?"

What upset Stewart was an ink drawing of an African, dressed in tribal costume, jumping in the air with a clenched fist and a rifle. The figure, done by a county high school student, is accompanied by depictions of people of other ethnic groups -- Indian, Asian and American Indian -- in traditional clothing.

At the Nov. 24 county school board meeting, a group of about 30 black teachers, parents and students asked Superintendent Michael E. Hickey for a public apology for the drawing, which many labeled as a racist stereotype and offensive to the black community.

The group also asked Hickey to ban the calendar in the county's 43 schools during March.

At the November board meeting, Hickey acknowledged the drawing was a mistake, but he declined to issue a formal apology, although he had privately apologized in letters to about seven residents who complained directly to him.

However, in an interview Tuesday, Hickey said he plans to make a public apology to the black community at tonight's school board meeting.

"It is not the intent of the school system to offend any group," Hickey said Tuesday. "This {the drawing} obviously has the appearance of that . . . and has offended people in the community."

However, Hickey said he does not plan to prohibit the display of the calendar in March. Instead, he said he will leave the decision up to individual teachers, many of whom hang the calendar in their classrooms.

The controversy over the school calendar, which started quietly about three months ago with a series of phone calls and letters to Hickey, has angered and frustrated many black residents.

Some blacks said the incident has left them disappointed and disillusioned about the Howard school system, which they considered to be progressive and respectful of different cultures.

"It's an issue of sensitivity," Stewart said. "It concerns me that this type of image is portrayed in the school calendar. As an educator, it is our job to enlighten and dispel negative images," she said.

Doris Morgan, a social studies teacher at Wilde Lake Middle School, said the drawing is damaging to the self-esteem of black students and reinforces negative perceptions about blacks.

"I object to it because of the audience," said Morgan, who has two teen-agers enrolled in the Howard County schools. "It may be all right for an art assignment, but to present it to thousands of Howard County residents is the wrong audience."

Stewart and other black teachers first complained to Hickey and members of the art advisory committee that selected the art work for the calendar.

Hickey, who did not see the calendar before it was printed, said the arts committee should not have included the drawing in the publication. Still, Hickey said Tuesday he was surprised by the reaction.

"When I looked through the calendar, it didn't strike me as offensive," Hickey said. "It's an interesting piece of art."

The student who penned the drawing, Jen McQuaid, a senior at Mt. Hebron High School in Ellicott City, declined to comment on the controversy Monday in a telephone interview. "It's getting a little out of hand," McQuaid said.

Stewart said black residents are upset because it took so long for Hickey to publicly apologize about the drawing.

"We never dreamed that this would go this far," said Stewart. "It's so obvious. It's staring at you."

Hickey said black students and parents should not feel the school system is insensitive to their feelings.

"One incident does not make a historical precedent," he said.

Hickey said the controversy can serve as a "learning experience" for students and educators about sensitivity to minorities.

But Morgan said the incident has mobilized the black community, especially since it comes shortly after the school system enacted a new art policy. That policy followed a complaint by the county NAACP about a painting of a nude black woman in a display of work by black artists in the school board office in February.

"I just can't let it go," Stewart said. "If we let go, they will do it again. They must take us seriously. Then just maybe it won't happen again."