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Four things to know about the Anne Arundel County opportunity gap report to be discussed tonight

Anne Arundel County Public Schools plans to talk about a report on the opportunity gap in the county tonight.

The report was created to address persistent disparities in academic performance between white students and Black students. This inequality of opportunity, related to race and income, begins with lack of prenatal care, the negative effects of low birthweight and poor nutrition, and is compounded by unsafe housing, inadequate transportation, and neighborhood violence, the report states.

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Over the last 20 years, there have been several attempts to address the documented opportunity gap affecting some of our Anne Arundel County Public Schools students and the structural racism in which that gap is rooted.

In county schools, African Americans make up 21.1% of the school population, Latinx students comprise 17.1% and just over half of all students are white 51.3%.

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Superintendent George Arlotto and County Executive Steuart Pittman will be joined by leaders of the task force to discuss the findings and hear from the public about ways to eradicate gaps between student groups at the special town hall, which runs from 6:30 to 8 p.m. tonight.

How did the task force come up with recommendations?

A core planning team to was created, then representatives from several agencies and organizations were invited to participate on a committee that collected community input and based on that feedback, the committee created five subcommittees focused on curriculum, discipline, family life, social determinants of education and systemic racism.

These subcommittees wrote specific goals and a list of potential strategies to reach them based on data. That is what the recommendations in the report are based on.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected the opportunity gap?

The pandemic has impacted African-American and Latinx communities more than others, the report states. The report listed impacts on these students as being less likely to have had internet access at the beginning of the pandemic, less likely to have had access to quality child care during the pandemic and more likely to have suffered trauma as a result of financial difficulties, including loss of housing, both before and during the pandemic.

“Opportunity gaps begin long before students enter the school system, and many of the structural and systemic problems are societal. Therefore, AACPS, Anne Arundel County government, community organizations, and residents of the county must all be part of the solution,” the report states.

The task force’s priority recommendations

The committee recommends these four action items be adopted and implemented by June 30, 2021.

1. Establish and empower an independent coalition of stakeholders, including those with lived experience of the issues, to provide ongoing review and oversight of structural and systemic racism that contributes to the opportunity gap in AACPS and the county, and to recommend changes to address equity issues in academics and discipline.

2. Engage government agencies and community partners to mitigate the effects of social determinants of education in low income communities, thereby increasing readiness for school and achievement throughout school.

3. Increase transparency and accountability by improving the public’s ability to locate, read, and interpret available reports on progress toward opportunity gap goals.

4. Establish a practice within the Board of Education, the AACPS Central Office, the Anne Arundel County government, and the Anne Arundel County Council of preparing a documented equity analysis to accompany all proposed policies and decisions.

How this report overlaps with the mental health task force

The committee recognizes there is overlap among the subcommittee recommendations, which highlights the complexity of both causes and solutions to the opportunity gap, with those of the mental health task force, according to the report.

The Mental Health Task Force began its work a few months prior to the opportunity gap committee and many individuals served on both initiatives. The joint nature of the work also stemmed from the fact that issues surrounding the mental health of children are just as complex as the opportunity gap, the report states.

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There are three priority recommendations that overlap between the mental health and opportunity gap task forces: apply the “equity lens” within each subcommittee for all policies, procedures and practices; use data to manage, monitor, and track all efforts; and develop additional restorative practices.

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