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Baltimore County schools remove Islamophobic image from math curriculum

Baltimore County public school leaders have removed an image depicting a negative stereotype of people who practice Islam from the school system’s online math curriculum.

The lesson in question centered on a mathematical concept called radical expressions. An image featuring three adolescent girls wearing headscarves next to the words “radicals are for adding and subtracting” was included in the public school system’s online pre-college math curriculum, and has since been removed.

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In a statement provided by spokesman Charlie Herndon, the Baltimore County school district said it learned March 16 of the “unacceptable and harmful image” and opened an investigation into the matter. The image was placed in the learning materials following a digital rewriting of curriculum in anticipation of distance learning necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Investigators met with math department leadership and curriculum writing teams to address “the critical need for culturally responsive and sustaining curriculum which reflects and celebrates the students we serve, as well as improvements to our curriculum review and quality assurance processes moving forward,” according to the statement.

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School officials concluded that the incident was “unintentional, did not intend malice, and resulted from a lack of sensitivity and awareness.” They did not say who was responsible or whether disciplinary action was taken as a result of the incident.

“It should not have happened, and we know we can and will do better,” officials said in the statement. The district did not say how it would prevent similar incidents in the future.

Still, a representative for the Maryland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the image was symptomatic of a broader issue in the Baltimore County school system. CAIR director Zainab Chaudry said the image was “tone deaf and should never have been approved as part of the curriculum.”

“Unfortunately, this is not the first instance in which we’ve had to confront Islamophobia in the Baltimore County Public School System,” Chaudry said in a statement, adding that measures to appropriately vet educational content have failed repeatedly.

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“The fact that this even had to be pointed out in order for them to flag and remove it is a reminder there’s just so many steps that still need to be taken to ensure our students are learning content that is appropriate and not discriminatory to a faith community,” Chaudry said. “It regurgitates tired stereotypes and correlates the faith of 1.5 billion people to extremism.”

CAIR officials are calling on school system leaders to implement broader, more inclusive policy changes and to introduce transparency in the curriculum approval process. Leaders of the organization said they are willing to advise senior officials for Baltimore County school on Islamophobia and broader policy changes.

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