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Baltimore County school board member apologizes for Black Lives Matter comments as district prepares for discussion on race

Catonsville H.S. student organizers lead a BlackLives Matter protest rally at their high school.

A Baltimore County School Board member created fireworks during Independence Day weekend when she called the Black Lives Matter movement “political” in a Facebook post that has been deleted.

“Our resolve that black lives matter is the only point that matters,” Julie Henn stated in an apology posted Monday on Twitter. “I apologize for diverting the conversation and losing focus on what is truly important.”

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In her Sunday Facebook post, Henn discussed a resolution the school board unanimously approved in June that declares “the lives of our black students matter, as well as the lives of all our students of color.”

Henn wrote that “our action to pass this resolution was misrepresented to indicate unanimous support of a political movement,” referring to Black Lives Matter. Henn’s post said the school board is a nonpartisan body that includes members who are “strongly in support” of the county’s school resource officers and “the importance of their continued presence in our schools.”

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When people began discussing her Facebook post on Twitter, Henn responded with a tweet saying “the [Black Lives Matter] movement has demanded divesting from police in schools.” She had written in her initial Facebook post, which was captured in a screenshot and shared on Twitter, that she would never support efforts to reduce the presence of those officers or their resources.

Several people, including the school board’s student member, Joshua Muhumuza, defended the resolution, which was introduced by Muhumuza’s predecessor on the board. Muhumuza, who didn’t mention Henn by name, pointed out the resolution doesn’t address school officers.

“Is saying Black Lives Matter that difficult????” Muhumuza wrote on Twitter.

On Tuesday, Henn said she supported the school board resolution, but objected to school system communications that gave the impression the board endorsed the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Our commitment to our black students and students of color is not antithetical to our commitment to the SRO [school resource officer] program,” Henn said, “as we value the benefits of building strong, positive mentoring and teaching relationships between students and our SROs.”

The disagreement over the school board resolution comes as the Baltimore County school system participates in a national re-examination of race relations that has followed George Floyd’s May 25 death during arrest in Minneapolis; four officers are charged with killing him. The school system is hosting “A Conversation on Race and Racism in America and Baltimore County Public Schools” beginning at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

School leaders want to use the heightened attention on racial issues, said Darryl L. Williams, the county schools superintendent, to explore the ways “race and racism affect our school system and the education we offer our students.”

High school students participated in Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Towson last month. Meanwhile, Catonsville’s Hillcrest Elementary School became a focal point in the community after families complained about people who repeatedly washed away Black Lives Matter chalk art created by children.

The school system, which enrolls a student body that’s nearly 40% Black, took notice and organized a series of conversations to be held virtually amid the coronavirus pandemic. The online event will be broadcast on BCPS-TV and available online using Microsoft Teams.

“There have been things that have happened where folks feel like a conversation may go a long way to both heal and to give people an opportunity to talk these things out,” said Mychael Dickerson, the county schools chief of staff.

People are “fearful” about discussing racial issues, Dickerson said, but he thinks these conversations will contribute to efforts to address the disparities in academic performance between groups of students. Students may not be as engaged in their schoolwork as they could be when “students don’t see themselves in the curriculum” or the demographics of the school system, he said.

Some students see eye-to-eye with Dickerson’s analysis and hopes for the series of conversations.

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Muhumuza said he hopes these events will spur the school system to ensure schools are “equitable in addressing the issue of racism.”

“One of the most overt things that we see is the disproportionality in the achievement gap,” said Muhumuza, 17 and a rising senior at Dundalk High School. “I go to a school that has a large majority of people of color, but the presence of people of color in those [Advanced Placement] classes is little to none.”

Muhumuza also said it’s difficult to have discussions about school discipline because administrators and teachers don’t feel comfortable talking about race.

Dickerson took notice of the comments from Muhumuza and Henn and posted his own remarks on Twitter. The chief of staff wrote Black Lives Matter isn’t anti-police but rather a movement started by three women following the death of Travyon Martin, “who was not killed by a police officer but rather a racist citizen,” Dickerson wrote.

“The children in Baltimore County are really making a case for change and saying, ‘We also love where we’re from, but we also know we can do better,’” Dickerson said, “and they’re demanding that things be made better for them.”

“If the adults aren’t going to do it, then we’ve seen by virtue of the protests and demonstrations they’ve done that they’ll take it into their own hands.”

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