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Baltimore private school students walk out following resignation of beloved Black teacher

Nearly 100 students and faculty members from Bryn Mawr School, Roland Park Country School and Gilman School took to the streets Friday morning to protest the treatment of a former teacher.

Earlier this year, Adrienne Knight, a Black Bryn Mawr teacher, resigned after posting a video to YouTube detailing her experience with a white student who allegedly told her to go “fetch me something” during class. Knight does not name the student in the video.

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According to Knight’s account in the video, the student glued a sheet of notebook paper to a desk. When Knight asked her about cleaning up the mess, she said, the student replied, “I’m not going to clean it up, but if you want to go fetch me something to do it, then you can do it.” It is unclear what interactions took place between the school and Knight before the resignation.

Niara Robinson, a teacher’s assistant at Bryn Mawr who is Black, said she understood the hurt in the community in light of Knight’s resignation, adding there’s a negative connotation to using the word “fetch” when addressing a Black person.

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“I only got a chance to work with her a short period of time. It was clear to me that she was connected with the students,” Robinson said.

Knight couldn’t be reached for comment. She worked at Bryn Mawr for four years and served as middle school drama and seminar teacher, according to a school announcement March 8.

The walkout was organized by Black at the Tri-Schools, an Instagram page founded following the death of George Floyd last year at the hands of police in Minnesota. It focuses on telling the stories of Black students at the three private, predominantly white schools. As of Friday, it had about 3,800 followers.

Students said they walked out of school Friday in solidarity with the former teacher. Signs read: “Recognize Black Faculty,” “Justice for Ms. Knight,” “Stop Silencing Black voices” and “We are not Targets. We are Humans” and there were chants of “Black Lives Matter.”

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They walked from the Northern Parkway bridge that connects Gilman to Bryn Mawr up to Roland Avenue, down to Charles Street, around Bryn Mawr’s building and then back by the bridge on the main road.

Students from Bryn Mawr, Gilman and Roland Park Country School hold up protest signs.
Students from Bryn Mawr, Gilman and Roland Park Country School hold up protest signs. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Zahni Jackson-Garrett, a 2012 Bryn Mawr graduate who is Black, said she wants to see Black childhood protected at the school.

“I’d like the Black Bryn Mawr community to continue to organize and to recognize its power. I want Bryn Mawr to get free,” said Jackson-Garrett, founder of a workshop named Bryn-Mawr Black Girl. “If I could make one demand of the institution, it would be to listen to the students’ voices. The school seal depicts a daisy bending toward a sunburst. The students are the sunburst. The institution bends to their vision.”

Grace O’Keefe, a former teacher at Bryn Mawr, said she witnessed plenty of incidents at the school where Black voices have been silenced.

O’Keefe, who oversaw eighth-graders’ speeches, said she was asked to have a speech by a Black student that mentioned race reviewed by the administration before it was given.

“Bryn Mawr’s systemic racism cannot be improved without employing more faculty of color. But, as many of you are aware, BMS has a decades long pattern of alienating, pushing out, and firing Black faculty,” she wrote on an open letter on the Instagram page.

O’Keefe said Knight resigned without a job lined up. So, O’Keefe set up a GoFundMe page for her nearly a month ago. As of Friday morning, $5,800 had been raised.

Officials at the three schools said they’ve attempted to create a more inclusive environment.

Bryn Mawr officials on Thursday declined to comment on questions pertaining to Knight’s resignation, citing the school’s personnel policy.

“We are aware of the Black at the Tri-Schools Instagram account and have taken very seriously the stories and experiences that have been shared since last summer,” Deborah Baum, a spokesperson for Bryn Mawr, wrote in an email. “We have met with students, families, employees and alumnae who have come forward to bring voice to their experiences, and the school committed to meaningful and lasting change through our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Action Plan.”

Caroline Blatti, head of Roland Park Country School, said the school is working on a diversity, equity and inclusion plan as well as forming an all-school DEI employee team.

“We are a collaborative community working together to grow and learn on our DEI journey. We recognize the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion is intentional and necessary; therefore, this past year our time spent with students, parents, and community has been significant as we seek to confront our complex history at RPCS,” she said.

Brooke S. Blumberg, a representative for Gilman, said in an email, “We monitor social media very closely, including the Black at the Tri-Schools Instagram account. While it is our policy not to comment publicly on student matters, rest assured that we take very seriously what is being shared on social media (any platform) and do our best to personally reach out to individuals who have bravely shared their stories.”

But many of the conversations that have attempted to address race have not been sincere, said the co-founder of the TriSchools Instagram account, who asked to remain anonymous because she didn’t want her story to overshadow other Black students’ experiences.

“There has not been progress, especially with Ms. Knight’s incident. That goes to show what they’re saying is not being put into action,” she said.

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