MARYLAND

Roadblock Cleared for Charter School

Leaders of Anne Arundel County's first charter school said yesterday that they had cleared the last major bureaucratic obstacle to opening next month in Annapolis.

The KIPP Harbor Academy and the Anne Arundel teachers union reached a tentative agreement that is likely to win approval from the school board, said Steve Mancini, a KIPP spokesman. The school board dealt the charter school a major setback last week when it voted down an earlier version of the agreement.

Classes are set to begin July 11 at the Knowledge Is Power Program school, the first charter campus to open in the county under a new law that encourages privately run public schools. The fate of KIPP and a second Anne Arundel charter, the Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School, had appeared uncertain in the past few months. Chesapeake is to open in the fall.

School board members rejected the agreement between KIPP and the teachers because of two items that are not part of the contract that governs other Anne Arundel teachers, dealing with arbitration and union dues. Yesterday, the parties decided to drop the disputed items. The agreement will be sent back to the school board in mid-July in modified form, Mancini said.

Commandments Monument to Remain

A privately owned Ten Commandments monument may remain on display in a Frederick city park, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. concluded that no reasonable observer would believe that the five-foot granite marker is meant as an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. Quarles also found proper the city's sale of the monument and an accompanying strip of parkland to the local Fraternal Order of Eagles chapter in 2002

The plaintiffs, Roy J. Chambers and the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, contended that the transaction was a sham designed to keep the monument on what appeared to be city land.

Frederick Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty said the ruling affirmed the city's decision to sell the monument to avoid a legal battle with the American Civil Liberties Union. The sale caused the ACLU to drop a lawsuit challenging the display.

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, was dismayed by the ruling. "I still believe that a passerby would still think this is a government display of a religious monument and would not understand the long, tortured history of this lawsuit," he said.

VIRGINIA

Group Pushes Same-Sex Marriage Ban

A conservative organization unveiled plans yesterday to focus voters' attention on a proposed amendment to the Virginia constitution that would ban same-sex marriage.

Central to the project is a Web site, Va4marriage.org, featuring a step-by-step explanation of the amendment and tips for how people can get involved in helping it pass. Richmond-based Family Foundation Action is organizing the effort.

The Web site, emblazoned with a picture of a bride and groom, also offers to arrange speakers on the issue at churches and community meetings.

"We want to make sure there is a site that has a clear message so people aren't confused as they go to the polls," said Pat McSweeney, chairman of the Family Foundation Action board.

Legislators overwhelmingly approved the proposed amendment in the 2005 session. They must approve it again next year, after an intervening House of Delegates election, before it could appear on the ballot as early as November 2006.

Equality Virginia, a gay rights group, is arranging a counteroffensive, said Executive Director Dyana Mason. She said the group is planning to reach voters on an individual level.

"That's the best way to change hearts and minds," Mason said.

THE REGION

Suspicious Package Prompts Closings

D.C. police briefly shut down the Farragut North Metro station and several blocks in downtown Washington last evening after a suspicious package was found on a newspaper box, authorities said.

Officials sent a bomb squad unit to Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW about 6:30 p.m. after a briefcase was found, said Capt. Melvin Key. The briefcase was deemed harmless after being X-rayed and opened.

The Red Line station was closed for about 30 minutes, and the affected streets were closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic for two blocks, Key said.

THE DISTRICT

Evans Asks Airline to Employ D.C. Flag

D.C. Council member Jack Evans would like Southwest Airlines to wrap one of its jets in the D.C. flag.

The airline unveiled a jet last week called "Maryland One" with the red, white, black and gold state flag to honor Maryland and its growing customer base at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Southwest has five other jets painted with state flags, representing Arizona, California, Texas, Nevada and New Mexico.

"It would only be fair to us in the District of Columbia that they add to that a District of Columbia plane," said Evans, who introduced a measure yesterday formally asking Southwest to do so. He noted that BWI shares the Washington name and contends that Southwest owes much of its growth there to D.C. residents.

Southwest said Evans shouldn't get his hopes up. A spokesman said the low-fare carrier would probably have to fly out of the District to consider wrapping a plane with its flag.

Grants Awarded to Anacostia Groups

The publicly chartered Anacostia Waterfront Corp. yesterday awarded grants totaling $200,000 to 14 community organizations whose programs link city residents to the long-neglected Anacostia River.

The grants, ranging from $2,500 to $25,000, cover a variety of activities, from sailing to installing trash traps at sewer outfalls to taking photographs of the river and its plant and animal life.

They are the first grants awarded by the corporation, established last year to lead the revitalization of the Anacostia waterfront and the environmental restoration of the river.

The corporation is completing plans for redeveloping the neighborhood around the planned baseball stadium near South Capitol Street.

It will oversee the restructuring of the Southwest waterfront and the creation of new neighborhoods at Poplar Point, Buzzards Point and the former D.C. General Hospital campus and construction of a walking and biking trail along both banks of the river.

"If everyone gets a little chuckle at my expense, well, that's not the worst thing that can happen to me."

-- D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, after hearing that some car theft victims were amused to hear that he had joined their ranks. -- B1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Daniel de Vise, Debbi Wilgoren and Clarence Williams and the Associated Press.