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Modern times vs. old ways [Editorial]

Christopher Providence, representing Together We Will and Voices for Racial Change, talks about diversity issues in Harford County Public Schools during a recent public input budget session. School Board member Thomas Fitzpatrick listens in the background.
Christopher Providence, representing Together We Will and Voices for Racial Change, talks about diversity issues in Harford County Public Schools during a recent public input budget session. School Board member Thomas Fitzpatrick listens in the background. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Many times, it’s helpful to look at the calendar and remember what year it is.

That’s certainly the way we feel when it comes to diversity issues and Harford County Public Schools. It’s 2018, not 1958, 1968 or even 2008.

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The composition of the 37,500 students who attend Harford’s public schools are a much more diverse lot from an ethnic, religious, socio-economic, national origin and racial standpoint than ever.

We suspect the composition of the 5,300-plus HCPS employees who serve these students isn’t anywhere near as diverse, and that’s certainly a problem.

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From everything we’ve heard out in the community, last fall’s racial slur incident at Bel Air High School was not isolated at that school or elsewhere in the school system.

Two of the four speakers from the public at the most recent Board of Education budget input session held Jan. 10 addressed HCPS diversity issues, both condemning the aforementioned BAHS incident.

According to Aegis staff member David Anderson’s report in Friday’s issue, Christopher Providence, of Havre de Grace, and Nicholas Maivelett, of Bel Air, raised concerns about diversity and race relations in the schools.

Maivelett, a 2016 graduate of C. Milton Wright High School, said there should be more resources so students can learn about different cultures in the U.S. and the world during their social studies classes, which would ideally improve relations between white and minority students.

“As the years go by, schools are going to get more diverse and if there’s nobody to really represent those students [of color], then they’re going to feel disenfranchised and not feel like it’s a welcome place for them,” he said. The latter point is undeniable.

Here are a few facts from the Maryland Report Card regarding HCPS demographics in 2017:

Among 37,426 students, 7,038 were African-American, almost 19 percent; 2,539 were Hispanic/Latino, almost 7 percent; 1,223 were Asian, 3.3 percent; 2,272 listed two or more races, 6 percent; and 24,193 were white, almost 65 percent.

In other words, slightly more than one in three HCPS students considers themselves of some race other than white, and that doesn’t account for differences in national origin, religion and other diversity measures. Clearly, more people moving to Harford County are coming from other countries and that will continue, despite the United States president’s recent assertion that some countries are more welcome to send people to the U.S. than others.

Maryland Report Card only lists male and female for genders, another aspect of looking at public schools that is likely to change in the near future. The 2017 split for HCPS was 19,119 males and 18,307 females enrolled, 51-49 percent.

Providence, a former speech pathologist with Baltimore County Public Schools, who was speaking for the community groups Together We Will-Harford County/Upper Chesapeake and Voices for Racial Change, said there should be more funds for recruiting and retaining minority teachers.

“We think it’s very important for all students to have those opportunities to interact with teachers who may be different from them,” he said.

None of these issues, such as recruitment of more minority teachers in HCPS, is neither new nor insurmountable, despite the usual clap-trap from some school leaders that it’s difficult to recruit minority employees, etc., etc.

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We’ll just continue to remind everyone involved that it’s 2018. The old ways and attitudes need to be a-changing, in HCPS and, just as important, in our community in general.

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