If schools are a mirror to society, what are Montgomery County’s public schools reflecting?
In May, MCPS introduces a three-year antiracism action plan designed to combat hate, bias and racism.
Last month, MCPS released a report with data on 238 hate-bias incidents that took place over the 2022-2023 school year. This represents a 400% increase in reported incidents compared to the previous five years, MoCo360 reported school officials saying.
Guila Franklin Siegel, the associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said that the increase “mirrors what we’re seeing nationally.”
The Anti-Defamation League which tracks incidents of antisemitic harassment, vandalism and assault in the United States, reported a 36% increase in antisemitic incidents in their 2022 report.
“The school system is taking meaningful steps to better handle incidents that happen and create an environment that is less welcoming for those incidents to occur,” Siegel said. She added that school Superintendent Monifa McKnight “takes this issue very seriously.”
While the number is historically high, some advocates say it doesn’t feel like an accurate representation of what’s really going on at the school level.
“The bottom line is, the data doesn’t feel like it represents reality,” Byron Johns, president of the Montgomery County NAACP Parent’s Council and co-founder of the Black and Brown Coalition, told MoCo360.
Montgomery County’s Anti-Hate Task Force agreed.
“We recognize that many of those numbers are underreported for a variety of reasons,” Damon Monteleone, MCPS associate superintendent, said during a live-streamed meeting of the task force on Aug. 1.
The task force, formed this year, includes members from African-American and Black, Latino and Hispanic, Asian American Pacific Islander, LGBTQ+, Jewish and Muslim communities, according to the Montgomery County Council. Their goal is to prioritize policies that will promote safety and combat hate crimes.
Hate-bias incidents, as defined during the task force’s Aug. 1 meeting, can be intentional or unintentional harassment or harm to anyone based on perceived characteristics that include but are not limited to race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation or religion.
“Our society is experiencing a great deal of outward hate and intolerance. As diverse and progressive as our county is and our school system is – we are not immune to what is happening across the country and within our society,” Monteleone said. “Our schools, we know, are a reflection of society.”
Siegel said the JCRC is committed to working with its partners in the community to combat hate, to allow all children to reach their full potential.
“We understand that all these forms of hatred are interlinked. Measures to combat one are helpful for all,” Siegel said.
The JCRC’s involvement with the task force has included working with MCPS on the curriculum.
“Students didn’t learn about Jewish history until the end of middle school,” Siegel said.
The curriculum changes weave in education about Jews and the Holocaust throughout
JCRC has also been involved with teacher and administrator training for MCPS, using a module they created with the ADL. Siegel said these trainings have been given to hundreds of educators and that four more training events are scheduled with MCPS over the next two months.
The JCRC has also expanded its Holocaust Speaker’s Bureau by teaching the children of Holocaust survivors to tell their parents’ stories – bringing their number of speakers from around 5,000 to 10,000.
Meanwhile, after months of protests, MCPS declined to allow parents to opt their children out of LGBTQ+ storybooks, MoCo360 reported. The decision was criticized by Hisham Garti, the outreach director for the Montgomery County Muslim Council, who said that the decision shows a bias toward one minority versus others, according to MoCo360.
The JCRC has declined to take a stance on the opt-out controversy, Siegel said.
Recordings of the task force’s previous meetings, a schedule of upcoming meetings, the MCPS Antiracist Audit Report and the MCPS Antiracist System Action Plan are all available online at montgomerycountymd.gov.