The Caucus of African American Leaders approved a resolution Tuesday night, co-signed by the county’s NAACP branch, asking county schools to proactively address racism.
The resolution listed racist incidents in Anne Arundel County Public Schools, including in recent weeks at Chesapeake High School, a petition circulated at Arundel High School by the “Kool Kids Klan” in January 2017 and a noose hung at Crofton Middle School in May 2017.
“We will not tolerate children being subject to racial terrorism,” caucus convener Carl Snowden said.
The resolution states the school system needs to treat racism as a “mental health disorder that results in trauma on the intended victims.” The resolution called for specific actions they want the system to take, including creating a zero-tolerance policy for racism and creating protocols when racist incidents occur.
The measure also criticized Superintendent George Arlotto, saying he has “failed to understand or appreciate how the trauma of racism has directly and indirectly” affected students and staff.
“Discrimination in any form and in any setting — be it racist or otherwise — is intolerable, period,” schools spokesman Bob Mosier said in a statement.
“Anne Arundel County Public Schools has stood firmly on the side of acceptance and inclusion, and our Code of Student Conduct stipulates clear sanctions for those who violate those standards. Our school system continues to examine and implement ways we believe will effect quicker change, but shifting mindsets is a frustratingly slow process that requires a societal commitment.”
Jacqueline Allsup, of the Anne Arundel County Branch of the NAACP, stood during the meeting, held at the Wiley H. Bates Legacy Center, and said the group will co-sign the resolution.
While the resolution mentioned recent incidents, it also mentioned actions the county’s NAACP took years ago at the federal level to address a gap in achievement between black students and their peers and a discrepancy in discipline.
In 2005, county schools and the NAACP entered into a mediated agreement that set specific goals related to the academic achievement, special education, alternative schools, dropouts and withdraws, safe and orderly environments, community collaboration and tracking and reporting. The effort was meant to eliminate the achievement gap.
In its resolution, the caucus said the system has failed to meet those goals.
The federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights also launched an investigation in 2012 after the NAACP filed a complaint alleging bias in discipline practices at county schools. The superintendent at the time, Kevin Maxwell, ordered an audit. The audit showed that while the discipline numbers between 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 went down overall, African-American students were still receiving a disproportionate number of referrals.
According to the Department of Education’s website, that complaint is still being investigated.
The Rev. Steve Tillett, the county NAACP President, has called for additional transparency in how school officials share such data.
Figures from the Maryland State Department of Education show that for the last six school years, 2011-2012 through 2016-2017, African-American students have received the majority of expulsions and in-school and out-of-school suspensions, despite the student population remaining roughly the same — 20.6 percent.
The last six school years saw an increase in the proportion of African-Americans receiving expulsions and suspensions, from 45.8 percent in 2011-2012 to 50.2 percent in 2016-2017.
The last six school years saw a decrease in the proportion of expulsions and suspensions for white students — they composed 40.8 percent of expulsions and suspensions in 2011-2012, and 33 percent in 2016-2017. The population of white students in county schools also declined from 61.6 percent to 55.4 percent in that time period.
The caucus called for several actions in its resolution.
The first is to develop a “zero tolerance” policy for racism and bias.
They also want schools to develop written protocols for when a racist incident occurs in county schools, or when an incident that is widely known about with county connections occurs. Those protocols should include instructions about communication and assemblies. That protocol should also include making individual and group counseling immediately available after such instances, the Caucus said in its resolution.
The Caucus wants the school work with the NAACP and Coming to the Table to hold regular group discussions about race with students and staff. It also wants to require implicit bias training for all county staff.
Snowden said the Caucus itself would also like to hold a public hearing at Chesapeake High School to discuss racism in county schools.