By Dana Schallheim
AACPS Board of Education, District 5
Racism and anti-Semitism have no place in our schools. While we hope our children will never be subjected to acts of hate or biased behavior, both do occur far too often. This year, more nooses, swastikas and racial slurs have been found on school property, and multiple anti-Semitic incidents have occurred at schools across the county.
Biased behavior isn’t limited to racism and anti-Semitism. Biased offenses can also be motivated by negative opinions or attitudes toward an individual or group of people based upon disability, physical attributes, gender identity, sexual orientation or ethnicity/national origin. The results of biased behavior can affect a child’s emotional and physical wellbeing as well as be detrimental to his or her educational experience. The negative effects can be devastating and last a lifetime.
As a parent as well as a Board of Education member, I want all our children to feel safe at school. No child should be the subject of hate.
Year-long projects — such as the Positivity Project, school assemblies that focus on kindness, and class circles in advisory classes — help ensure all students feel safe and welcome in our schools. Additionally, I am optimistic that the recently approved Global Citizenship course, with the appropriate teacher selection and training, will play a huge part in broadening students’ world view and encourage understanding.
While these programs, alongside anti-bias training for teachers and staff, are important steps toward eradicating bias and hate from our schools, we still have a long way to go. When these heinous acts occur, students and staff should call it what it is. We shouldn’t shy away from using terms like “racism,” “anti-Semitism,” or “biased behavior.”
Anne Arundel County Public Schools must also ensure that all schools have equal access to resources, programming and assemblies to address all types of biased behavior, as well as bullying, head on. Facilitating community conversations in partnership with community groups — similar to the recent Conversation about Acceptance held at Chesapeake Bay Middle School — is just one example of how we can, alongside the community, take responsibility for this chronic problem and work collaboratively to find solutions. I hope that similar community conversations will occur in every school cluster.
When incidents occur, parents and students should have tools at the ready. These tools include involving a trusted school staff member, such as a school counselor; meeting with school staff; and utilizing the harassment and intimidation (bullying) reporting form. This form can be found at www.aacps.org/antibullying.
This page includes tons of helpful information as well as the form, which can be filled out online. Use this form! If you don't report an incident, AACPS staff can't investigate.
Lastly, I want to acknowledge the stresses that our young people endure. Know that you are never alone and that you are loved. If you or someone you know is suffering, talk to a school counselor, school psychologist or favorite teacher, or reach out using the numbers below.
MD Youth Crisis Hotline
24 hours a day, seven days per week
National Suicide Prevention Hotlines
1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (8255)