Anne Arundel County police are investigating two racist incidents that took place at two Pasadena schools over the course of just two days.
A Chesapeake High School student said he received an anonymous message via AirDrop on Oct. 31 that contained a photo of a Confederate flag with the caption: “You n***s will rue the day,” said the student’s mother.
A day later a noose was found hanging in a boys’ bathroom stall at Chesapeake Bay Middle School, according to a letter the school principal sent to families on Thursday.
Both incidents are part of a long list of racial and bias-related attacks in the Chesapeake feeder system, which serves Pasadena and Severna Park.
And, despite efforts taken on by the school system to promote inclusion and tolerance, bullying and racism persist at schools across the county.
“It really troubles us, in fact, it angers us,” schools Superintendent George Arlotto said Wednesday.
Latoya Haigler said she was “shocked” when she learned her 16-year-old son, received the racist image via AirDrop while in class. The Apple application allows users to share and receive content with others nearby.
“No other children got that message, it was directly targeted,” Haigler said. “With the uptick of the racial concerns, it’s disrupting for him.”
Meanwhile, half-a-mile away, officials are attempting to get to the bottom of an incident in which a noose made of toilet paper was hanged in a bathroom stall at Chesapeake Bay Middle School.
Principal Michael Dunn said he is “confident” the individual involved in the incident has been identified.
County police are investigating, said Monique Jackson, deputy superintendent of student and school support.
“Every incident is absolutely investigated and if a perpetrator is found, then their consequences are in alignment with our Student of Code of Conduct,” Jackson said.
The noose was located on a side of the building that is under construction and used only for lunch periods, Dunn said. It was tied to a metal beam inside of a stall and ultimately removed by a staff member.
While Chesapeake High School has dealt with racist incidents in the past, this is a first for Chesapeake Bay Middle School, Arlotto said.
Last week the words “Kill all Blacks” were found scrawled on a piece of paper students use to sign in and out of counseling sessions at Chesapeake High School. And before that, another threatening message that targeted African Americans was found in the school computer lab.
A number of incidents, including an instance in March in which a swastika was drawn on a toilet seat in a boys’ bathroom, have targeted Jewish students, as well.
Many have asked the question: Why Chesapeake?
“We don’t have an answer to that. I don’t know why that is,” Arlotto said.
“We’ve seen several incidents at the high school, now we have our first incident at the middle school and that really troubles us.”
Arlotto said the incident overshadows the school district’s focus on inclusion and unity.
In October, students countywide donned the color orange for the National Bullying Prevention Center’s Unity Day. Schools have implemented several relationship-building activities — like community circles, which are used in classrooms to encourage students and teachers to exchange information about themselves.
Arlotto said much of the district’s approach to curbing bullying revolves around building relationships.
“We began our ‘Be Nice’ campaign two years ago, where we’re really trying to get students and students, students and adults, and adults and adults to form different relationships,” Arlotto said. “We want people to be kinder to each other. Common decency, in this day and age, is not so common.”
But Arlotto acknowledged that racism requires a different approach. The school system — that services about 80,000 children — is still working out the kinks.
Arlotto said a sure-fire solution will require input from the entire community. School officials plan to host a community meeting in the Pasadena area to address racism. A date has yet to be determined.
“We know when students are more comfortable, when students are happier, when relationships are stronger, we know that the academic learning really can take off,” Arlotto said.”
School officials are in the early stages of developing mandatory coursework about diversity and inclusion for all AACPS students, Arlotto said.
And at Chesapeake, the school system has deployed extra resources: a community ambassador to serve as a liaison between students and administrators, and a student equity team to relay information about school climate.
Middle and high schools have adopted advisories — small classroom settings where students and teachers can have difficult conversations in a structured environment.
It is too soon to tell if any of these methods are working, though. Deputy Superintendent of Student and School Support Monique Jackson said officials can eventually gauge whether or not attitudes have changed by administering surveys.
For families like Haigler’s, the school district’s efforts aren’t paying off fast enough. Haigler said she wants to transfer her son — and his program for students with emotional disabilities — to another school where “racial tensions aren’t as high.”
“Basically they said nothing can be done because of the way that the message was sent, they can't identify who it was,” Haigler said about school administrators. “That is not enough for me.”