Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz affirmed his support of county school Superintendent Dallas Dance on Friday, after Dance came under fire for tweeting a comment that educators should reach out to students who may have felt maligned during the presidential campaign.
Dance retweeted comments by Josh Starr, a former Montgomery County superintendent, who urged educators to "show your muslim, black, latino, jewish, disabled, or just non-white St's, that you love them and will protect them!"
Some parents and lawmakers called the tweet offensive, and they chastised Dance for pushing a message they saw as racism against white students. Del. Joe Cluster, a Republican from Baltimore County, said he found the language insulting.
"I am putting a letter together asking for his resignation," Cluster said. "That viewpoint is racist and biased toward white students."
Defenders of Dance began responding Friday morning.
"Superintendent Dance continues to have my full support," Kamenetz said. "His sensitivity toward students with ethnicities, religions, color, and gender that were under attack during this election should be commended, not reprimanded."
After the tweet was posted on a Baltimore County parents' Facebook page, it drew a long and steady stream of commentary from parents on different sides of the issue. The controversy seemed to encapsulate the diverging and angry voices of the presidential campaign.
State Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, a Baltimore County Republican, said the tweet's explicit reference to "non-white" students excludes white students.
"We don't need that," Salling said. "I believe that causes division."
While some expressed hurt or anger that white students had been left out, others said they believed children of ethnic backgrounds and religions that had been singled out by Donald Trump might feel unsettled by his election. White students, they said, had not been targeted.
"I think Dr. Dance's attempt to address the concerns of a diverse population doesn't threaten the whole student body, and when teachers are concerned about cultural and racial sensitivity in the classroom, everyone benefits," said county parent Yara Cheikh.
As the angry posts continued on the parents' Facebook page, which has 4,000 members, the administrator of the page took steps to shut down the discussion. Julie Sugar posted a notice saying it was taking too much time to monitor with all the comments "flying back and forth" so she had taken down some of it.
"Please — let's focus on the big stuff and keep our eyes on the prize — the best education possible for our kids."
Dance responded to critics Thursday.
"As the Superintendent of one of the largest most diverse school systems in our country, I always lead from an equity lens with an intense focus on all student populations and ensuring they feel welcome and supported," he said in a written statement. "Comments were made that disenfranchised several groups of students we serve in Baltimore County Public Schools. As our nation moves forward, it is our collective responsibility to make sure all students feel safe and know we are their advocates."
Dance's spokesman said the superintendent has no plans to resign.
Ann Miller, a conservative member of the county school board, wrote a letter to Dance late Thursday saying it was inappropriate for him to suggest teachers "have a discussion about the results framed in bigotry, fear, and hate, and that's why our non-white kids need to be reassured."
Miller, a regular critic of Dance, said she's concerned that his comments "are creating an environment of fear where there is no evidence it is warranted."
"People are welcome to their feelings," she said in the letter, "but that doesn't mean those unproven opinions should drive the type of conversation I think you are suggesting we as a school system should initiate. That borders on schoolhouse activism."
Miller suggested that the students be taught about the "new beginning" that will come after the election.
School board President Charles McDaniels said that while he understood some people were offended, he felt Dance's message "wasn't meant to be exclusionary or hurtful."