Alumni of Carroll County Public Schools are calling on the system to include more black voices in curriculum and provide resources for schools to teach and talk about race.
Two petitions emerged at around the same time, and the groups of alumni who drafted each are now working together toward their common goal. One petition had received more than 4,800 signatures as of Friday at 1 p.m.
That petition calls for CCPS to support its own goals by playing a part in starting conversations about race and teaching more black perspectives in curriculum.
“Conversations on race and on the role white people play in perpetuating racism in the United States must become an integral component of primary and secondary public education,” it reads. It can be viewed at change.org by searching “CCPS Commitment to Curriculum Change.”
The other petition called for an advisory committee to oversee five goals, including teaching more black history in social studies and more black authors in English classes, hiring more minority educators, and strengthening mental health resources for students that are culturally competent."
Charlie Ferguson, a Westminster alum, who wrote the first petition, submitted a public comment to the June 10 Board of Education meeting. Board Member Patricia Dorsey said in her remarks: “During this time in our country there is a lot of racial tension and unrest, so it behooves us to really engage in courageous conversation about race and to examine and plan for preparing our students so that they can be productive members in a diverse society.”
She thanked the former students who advocated for a diverse curriculum and the deeper understanding of race relations, but said it was not the first time students had asked for something similar.
“We’ve been hearing in the past that once they go away and experience a more diverse environment, they feel that they’ve really lacked something here in Carroll County. So I think now is the time for us to really get serious about making sure that we are diversifying the curriculum and improving a deeper understanding of race relations," she said.
“We’ve been hearing student voices. We’ve got to act. The time is now.”
Student Representative Devanshi Mistry, who was serving in her first meeting in the role, said she had heard from several students that they wanted to see change in the culture in schools.
“They just want a safe and secure environment where all students feel included,” she said.
Superintendent Steve Lockard said of the student voice: “This is a time to make sure we are absolutely listening.”
Ferguson’s petition came to the attention of a small group of Liberty high school alumni who had had a similar idea, and posted the second petition, said Brendan Burns. The two groups decided to join forces and work toward their common goals
In an interview with the Times, Ferguson said, “What I do want to achieve from the petition is just to use the energy that’s coming out of our country right now to get people excited and realize that there can be change at the structural level in the education system.”
“Both Brendan and I have recognized that we need to be sure that we’re including voices from people of color in the community," he added, "so that those voices can be represented because, you know, we are both white and the goal of this is not to just tell everyone our own experiences, but to open the discussion for others to share theirs.”
The organizers said Lockard reached out to them on behalf of CCPS staff and talked about some of the work CCPS is doing and initiatives planned for the future.
Ferguson started drafting his petition based on his own experiences, “and it wasn’t as nuanced as I would have liked it to be,” he said. That’s when he looked to CCPS’s own codified goals, hoping to ask them to stay accountable to helping students “obtain the skills to thrive as independent 21st century learners," “Become knowledgeable, responsible, and caring citizens” and “Respect and appreciate diversity among peers."
“If these beliefs truly represent the educational goals of CCPS, there must be change in both curriculum and mindset,” the petition reads.
Said Burns: "I don’t want to blame it on anybody but myself. I just want to, I guess help make our Carroll County education system the best it can be, because I think the education system is where, you know, people spend so much of their time. Not just learning, but the social experience and everything as well.”
“Our gratitude is what compels us to work to improve the system so that the next generation of students are able to make further strides toward a more just world,” the petition he helped draft says.
They want to use the momentum and excitement of the moment to make change that will last.
“It’s one thing for people to sign a petition and go out to protests, and all these things are super awesome, especially protesting,” Ferguson said. "But sometimes I feel like there is a certain level of signing a petition or making a Facebook post or whatever else it may be. And then we feel as if the job is done. We just want to encourage as much further action as possible.”