Montgomery County Public Schools announced on Feb. 6 new guidelines for anti-bias training with the goal of diminishing hate-related harassment and vandalism in schools.
At his monthly press conference, Superintendent Jack Smith said, “As we think about bias and actions and activities that can be so hurtful and so destructive, how do we make sure that we’re responding the way that builds a stronger, more positive community?”
The school system has been working with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. Associate Director Guila Franklin Siegel said the plan has three parts to address hate and bias: responsive procedures to hateful incidents; restorative action to help heal the community after an incident; and preventive measures, including anti-bias education for teachers and students.
“It’s so critical that principals be given the resources that they need in order to respond to these incidents,” Franklin Siegel said in an interview. “The new protocols provide a clear chain of command, in terms of who they report to and inform when an incident happens.”
Some tangible changes include being able to submit the MCPS bullying, harassment and intimidation form online, said Deputy Superintendent Monifa McKnight at the press conference, within the next couple months.
Franklin Siegel said the JCRC is a resource the school community and principals can use to help when hateful incidents occur, along with organizations like Identity and other members of the Black and Brown Coalition for Educational Equity and Excellence.
The education piece of this initiative is important to building empathy and cultural competence, said Franklin Siegel.
“We want to create a situation where children are really listening to each other, where there is a sharing of mutual narrative, greater mutual understanding and respect,” she added.
Though MCPS is looking at anti-bias on a larger scale, Franklin Siegel said JCRC is focused on anti-Semitism, and is concerned about an increase in incidents of swastikas being used to vandalize schools.
“From the county’s perspective, it is [more general], as well it should be,” she said. “We are an incredibly diverse school district and we have seen xenophobia among the students, racism, homophobia, all kinds of hatred that pit students against one another, that makes students feel unsafe or marginalized. Kids can’t learn in that environment.”
McKnight classified hate-bias incidents as based on race, ethnicity, color, ancestry, national origin, religion, immigration, gender and gender identity.
“We’ve taken various steps to ensure that all schools and offices have a clear approach to responding, restoring and preventing these incidents at a school district level,” McKnight said.
These guidelines aren’t going to completely eradicate bias and hate, Franklin Siegel acknowledged, but they are a start in changing attitudes. JCRC will continue to work with MCPS “to flesh out the details regarding implementation,” she said.
She added that it’s a matter of changing school culture in the long term.
“The problem didn’t appear overnight, it’s not going to disappear overnight, but these are positive first steps,” Franklin Siegel said. WJW