Jewish families offer input on anti-racist audit

Montgomery Blair High School, Silver Spring, Photo by G. Edward Johnson / Wikimedia Commons

Montgomery County Public Schools wants to learn how welcoming and inclusive the school district is to people of color. In March, it is taking an anti-racist audit, a review of district policies and practices. MCPS is asking students and their parents to complete a survey including questions on racial disparities in ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status and language proficiency.

The survey does not ask about antisemitism.

Concerned that Jewish families will not have a say about how they are treated, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington held a video community conversation on March 3.

The discussion had an effect on the survey. Under a question about self-identification, there is now a place to check that the respondent is Israeli.

“They corrected that right away,” said Guila Franklin Siegel, associate director of the JCRC. Hebrew was added to a list of languages spoken at home. Originally, the list included Yiddish.

Franklin Siegel said the parents who participated in the discussion “had a valid concern” that their children might be excluded. However, she stressed the survey and Anti-Racist System Audit is to learn about issues of racism, not antisemitism.

“Normally we say antisemitism should be treated separately,” said Franklin Siegel. “There is no one size fits all for eradicating hatred.”

She said all parents, regardless of background, should be part of ending racism in the schools. The JCRC is an advocate “to ensure that all children have an equal opportunity to realize their full potential,” she said.

During the meeting, one parent said it is “offensive” to ask for a respondent’s identity and not include “Jewish” in the list of choices.

Franklin Siegel explained that the survey does not list religions, so it is appropriate that Judaism was not included.

MCPS officials pointed out that there is a space marked other in which anyone filling out the survey can write that they are Jewish.

The survey was created by Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium in collaboration with the MCPS Office of Strategic Initiatives.

The audit is for fact-finding, according to Superintendent Monifa McKnight. This summer, school officials will take information gathered from the survey and come up with ways to combat racism.

The audit covers six areas: workforce diversity analysis, work conditions; progress and barriers; equity curriculum review; equity achievement framework progress; community relations and engagement; and evaluation of school cultures.

There are racial disparities in many aspects of the school district, officials say. People of color have higher suspension and discipline rates and fall into the lower categories for reading and graduation rates. Also, there have been multiple racist incidents at recent sporting events and white supremacist graffiti found at schools.

Incidents of swastikas scratched onto desks or spray painted in bathrooms have also occurred. One parent at the video conference said, “My kid comes into school every day and a kid does a Nazi salute.”

School officials said they are aware of antisemitic incidents and do not tolerate them. Teachers are trained to respond. The $450,000 audit also does not touch on gender bias. It only concerns racism, they stressed.

“This is not an either-or kind of thing,” said John Landesman, executive director of MCPS’ Office of Strategic Initiatives. “The whole idea is to make sure everyone feels safe in MCPS.”

According to MCPS’ website about the audit, “Racism is the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another.”

It also noted that “Antiracism is not code for anti-white. MCPS is committed to providing students with age-appropriate tools to explore the evolution of our nation, its institutions, and policies through a lens that accurately reflects the experience of all communities and cultures. Curriculums and textbooks only portraying white people as either hero or villain are as inaccurate as the omissions of the histories and contributions of people of color.”

MCPS does not teach or promote Critical Race Theory curriculum, it notes on its website.

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