xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Harford school board addresses race relations, student member seeking answers for student survey

Christian Walker, the outgoing student representative on the Harford County Board of Education, made a pledge this week that he and his successor will “confront racism in Harford County Public Schools,” working with school system leaders as well as students to obtain data on the current state of race relations in HCPS and determine what policies must be put in place to ensure equity and safety for all students.

During Monday’s board meeting, Walker said that he and incoming student representative Phoebe Bailey-Probst of Joppatowne High School “will not let up on this until we turn these conversations into action.”

Advertisement

Walker addressed the issue of race relations at the local level, in light of the many protests that have happened in Harford County and across the nation following the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

The meeting Monday was one of the final meetings in which Walker, of C. Milton Wright High School, will participate before his one-year term on the board ends this month. The succeeding student representative is typically sworn in during the first board meeting in July.

Advertisement
Advertisement

“Tonight I want to start with three words: Black lives matter,” Walker said during the portion of the meeting reserved for board member comments. "It is inherent that until black lives matter, all lives don’t matter. Black lives must matter for all lives to matter.

“Not only do black lives matter, black dreams matter, black hopes matter and black success matters,” he added.


Walker and Bailey-Probst have been working with HCPS Superintendent Sean Bulson and some of Bulson’s top aides to develop a survey that was sent Thursday to middle and high school students. It will be distributed in a number of formats, including on paper, so as many students as possible can participate, according to Walker.

In a message to parents Thursday, Bulson said the school system is committed to using what it learns from the survey to drive changes in our schools to create an even better environment for all students to learn and thrive.

Advertisement

The survey questions will cover “a wide variety of issues related to racism, race relations and equal treatment in our school buildings,” Walker said.

“We are seeking a fuller, honest picture of what students are experiencing with their peers, teachers, coaches and administrators,” he said.

Students will be asked about not only instances of overt racism while in school but “implicit or covert biases that are inadvertently perpetuated in our schools and are just as impactful to students of color,” according to Walker.

He encouraged all middle and high school students to participate, as the data collected will be used to form recommendations on what changes the school system can make "to both policy and actions in our schools to ensure all students are being treated equitably.”

“Honest non-judgmental conversations are more important than they’ve ever been,” Walker said. “Seize the awkward moment, lean into the uncomfortable conversations and listen to understand rather than reply.”

He encouraged people to “embrace each other — spread love, understanding and support over hate, dismissal and anger.”

Solidarity with black community

A number of Walker’s adult colleagues on the board also addressed matters of race relations and the recent protests in Harford County.

“I stand in solidarity with the black community in mourning and wanting justice [for George Floyd],” member Joyce Herold said.

“My heart has been very heavy over the past several weeks, especially for our black students and their families and their friends and loved ones who feel an immense burden from trying to answer questions about safety — their own safety and concern as they travel along their daily lives,” she added.

Member Patrice Ricciardi described the past few weeks as “a very scary time we live in,” noting that “I do stand in unity” with the black community.

“We really have to do everything we can to support the students in our community so they grow to do great things, positively,” she said.

Board Vice President Rachel Gauthier said she is “so incredibly incredibly proud of our students and our teachers and our staff members, who have been out there peacefully protesting, peacefully saying, ‘everybody needs to take a look at this.’

“It is past time for change,” she added. “We thought that the change had happened; it has not.”

Law enforcement does not shoulder all blame

Board President Jansen Robinson said he has attended some of the local Black Lives Matter rallies, and he praised those who showed their support, including the many participants who were not African American.

Robinson stressed that the black community has been talking about issues such as police brutality for years and said that it is time for “talking and protesting and all of that stuff” to end. He also urged “good people” to speak up about such issues.

“If good people stand back and don’t say anything, the folks who are committing this [violence] think that it must be acceptable,” he said.

Robinson said “we want to be very, very careful about laying all the blame at the feet of law enforcement,” however, noting that “we have asked our law enforcement to do things that really are not in their wheelhouse,” such as addressing social issues.

He urged people to put pressure on not only law enforcement to make reforms, but elected leaders as well, noting that “our elected officials have done our communities a disservice, because what we have failed to do is address those underlying issues that lead to the kind of things that we see law enforcement officers do.”

“When we don’t fund youth programs, and we don’t address the issues and concerns in our community, the people who live in those communities feel neglected, and the folks who police those communities say ‘Hey, well it must be OK, they must not be worth treating humanely,'" Robinson said.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement