Parents, clergy promote unity after racially charged incidents at Chesapeake High

Rachael Pacella
Contact Reporterrpacella@capgaznews.com

Black, blue and white balloons were placed along Mountain Road on the path to Chesapeake High School Monday morning.

Jen Sowers, a Chesapeake parent and Anne Arundel County Parent Coalition member, said the balloons have a meaning — we’re not white, we’re not black, we’re all Chesapeake High Cougars. Racist incidents, described by Principal Stephen Gorski as the acts of a few individuals, have plagued the Pasadena school in recent weeks.

“We all take great pride in the school,” she said.

To promote unity and improve morale for students and staff, Sowers and other parents from the Chesapeake cluster of schools gathered near the football field Monday waving signs and cheering as school buses arrived.

“Have a great day Cougars!” parent Julia Martin yelled at a passing bus.

Signs also were posted along the path to school in an organized effort by the coalition. The coalition is a group of concerned parents trying to improve transparency, accountability and communication in county schools, and their main focus is anti-bullying initiatives, Sowers said. She rallied with other parents near signs that read “Cougars Rise Above,” “Let Love Win,” and “Let’s Be Friends.”

Racial slurs have been found carved into a bathroom stall, a door frame and written on a toilet seat at the school. At a press conference in March a student alleged that his teacher called him a racial slur.

On Wednesday, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., a noose and dice decorated with the Confederate flag were found hanging from the rearview mirror of a student’s truck. The incident drew a response from public officials, who said it had “no place in Maryland.”

Anne Arundel County Public Schools shared a photo of Gov. Larry Hogan posing with Del. Nic Kipke Monday morning with a “CHS Cougars” sign with “#cougarnation” and “#chesapeakeunited” written below.

And Friday, a fight described as having “racial overtones” broke out. Schools spokesman Bob Mosier declined to specify the races of students involved citing privacy concerns. The students were of different ethnicities and races, he did say.

Tuesday night at 6 p.m. the Caucus of African-American Leaders will take up a resolution condemning racial incidents at county schools.

The April 4 incident is the second involving a noose to occur in county schools in the past year.

The General Assembly approved a bill Saturday strengthening the state’s hate crime laws to include groups of people, after a judge declined to punish a student for hanging a noose at Crofton Middle School in May. The judge interpreted the law as requiring named, specific individuals as targets of hate crimes.

Local clergy, working together with the Anne Arundel Branch of the NAACP, held the press conference regarding Chesapeake in March, as well as a follow-up town hall meeting where school officials fielded questions.

The clergy were out as well Monday morning, holding what they called a ministry of presence. The Rev. Jay Offer said it is “huge” for the group to see the Chesapeake parents out sharing messages of unity.

Of the signs scattered around, his favorite quoted Dr. Seuss, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Someone needed to stand up and say the racist incidents aren’t what represent their community, Offer said — and the parent coalition did.

“These ladies have the same vision we were praying for,” Offer said.

Hopefully, this will turn the tide, Offer said.

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