In the wake of Donald Trump's election, racial tensions in some Howard County schools, including racial epithets and threats circulating social media, have put students, parents and educators on edge.
Days after the election, school administrators were investigating an incident where a white student from Atholton High School in Columbia posted a photo of herself in blackface with a caption that read, "I'm finally a n---er." Another student reposted the image, which was originally shared on an image-sharing app, publicly on social media. In a separate incident, another white student from River Hill High School posted a photo of herself holding what appears to be a handgun and the text, "I'm boutta shoot some n---ers."
School system officials are meeting with parents and students to finalize what disciplinary actions, if any, will be taken, said John White, the school system's spokesman.
At Murray Hill Middle School in North Laurel, staff found "racially insensitive" graffiti written in black marker on a bathroom stall. The graffiti, which White declined to describe because the investigation is ongoing, was removed Friday.
As vitriol intensifies after the contested election, schools nationwide are grappling with how to address the outcome of the election as incidents involving intolerance heighten concerns about student's safety. Local leaders urged the community to maintain tolerance.
The social media incident prompted staff at Atholton to discuss the incident with students and "broaden the dialogue" on Monday, JoAnn Hutchens, the school's principal, wrote in an email to parents. Hutchens said school staff became aware of the post, which she called "racially offensive and hurtful," as students were dismissed on Nov.10.
In a statement, Howard County Schools Superintendent Renee Foose said the "emotional" election was an opportunity for a "teachable moment" to encourage dialogue about the government's checks and balances and what it means to live in a diverse society.
In an email to parents yesterday, Howard County Superintendent Renee Foose wrote that she was "deeply saddened" by a video of a Mount Hebron High School student making racist remarks about African-Americans and the Black Lives Matter movement.
In a similar plea to the community, the five-member Howard County Council wrote that the results of the election "should neither embolden nor justify anyone to attack or threaten another person or group," especially in schools, where these issues "will not be tolerated."
White said the school system's code of conduct outlines possibly disciplinary procedures. According to the code of conduct, the school system can take action against off-campus incidents that have an adverse effect on schools.
But federal courts have not definitely decided how to protect students' constitutional free speech rights in cases where the speech happens outside the school, said Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center, an offshoot of the Freedom Forum.
The key legal test is whether or not students' speech poses a likelihood of substantial disruption to the education process, Paulson said.
The video of a Mount Hebron High School senior's rant against African-Americans has ignited a debate among Howard County students, with some saying it sheds light on racism at the school and others calling it a one-off, drunken mistake.