Tim Manning and his family have lived in Abingdon for about a year. Two of his children attend Patterson Mill schools — a daughter at Patterson Mill High and a son at Patterson Mill Middle.
On March 19, Manning’s son was called a derogatory racist name by another student at Patterson Mill Middle, Manning told members of the Harford County Board of Education at their meeting Monday night.
He said he had addressed the problem with Patterson Mill Middle officials and that they were “responsive,” but that he wanted to address the school board so they would also be informed of the incident.
“My son was very ashamed about what happened. It’s the first time he experienced anything like that in his life,” Manning said, adding that he didn’t find out about it until a week after it happened. “As a father, I’ve prepared him for that, but he was taken aback that it happened in his school the first year [he has attended Patterson Mill Middle].”
Manning, who is African-American, said the incident involving his son, a sixth-grader, is a another in a list of examples of racism in Harford County Public Schools.
“I wholeheartedly feel the other student’s action toward my son is basically another shining example of hate and non-acceptance within this county and it's a strong remembrance of what happened at Bel Air High School just six short months ago,” Manning said. “It cannot, will not, be tolerated by me. It’s an unfortunate incident in 2018.”
Last fall, seven students at Bel Air High School spelled out a racial slur on their T-shirts. The incident prompted strong reaction with community leaders calling for more dialogue about issues of racism and of racial, gender, religious or ethnic objectification in the county. In response, the school system formed a task force on bias and cultural sensitivity.
The task force, made up of teachers, school-based administrators, central office administrators, parents, community members and students, will “develop a plan and strategic actions to build more equity, diversity and inclusion among our stakeholders, our schools and our greater communities,” according to information provided by Laurie Namey, supervisor of the Office of Equity and Cultural Proficiency within the school system.
“Building upon our efforts in cultural proficiency and equity in HCPS, it is our hope to cultivate honest and dynamic conversations that will further our plans and inform actions. The task force will be charged with making recommendations for ensuring safe, supportive and inclusive learning and working environments and a continuing focus on equity, diversity and inclusion embedded throughout Harford County Public Schools,” Namey said is the purpose of the task force.
As of Monday, 24 people had been invited to participate, according to Namey, who said school officials believe “further outreach will take place after our first initial meetings.”
Harford County’s Deputy Superintendent Joseph Licata said Tuesday that the school system would not comment on a specific incident.
"We're not going to react to a circumstance we haven't fully investigated yet,” Licata said, referring to Manning’s complaints about what happened at Patterson Mill Middle. “It's under investigation and when we find out something we may or may not have something to say about it."
After Monday’s meeting, Board of Education President Joe Voskuhl told a reporter incidents like the one involving Manning’s son won’t be tolerated.
“We continually strive to work on educating students that that is not acceptable behavior,” Voskuhl said.
He also spoke with Manning after the meeting, but declined to discuss the nature of their conversation.
Voskuhl pointed out that the committee on bias and cultural sensitivity was scheduled to hold its first meeting April 16.
At Patterson Mill Middle, 6.8 percent of the students are African-American, according to the Maryland State Department of Education on its Maryland Report Card website, www.reportcard.msde.maryland.gov. Across the Harford School system, 18.9 percent of students are African-American, according to the site.
Manning said he also wants to bring attention to what happened so other families who might be subject to similar comments would feel comfortable coming forward.
He sees more than $1 million being put into the budget for increased school security, but questioned where the same level of funding is for teacher training and restorative practices, anti-bias instruction and cultural sensitivity among all.
Manning said he is active duty Air Force, who commutes to Fort Meade every day.
“Then I have to come home and deal with Harford County’s history, from what I’ve learned, of non-acceptance and it’s a shame,” Manning said.
The school system accepts the accolades for high pass rates and sports success, he said, and it also needs to accept that racism exists in its schools.
“You all are going to accept what happened to my son because it happened within the school,” Manning said. “It needs to stop, it needs to be addressed, through funding or other means.”