Dal­las Dance clearly sup­ports all Bal­ti­more County chil­dren

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Marisol A. John­son Marisol A. John­son is a mem­ber of the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion for Bal­ti­more County Public Schools; her email is mjohn­son23@bcps.org.

As Don­ald Trump took the lead in the pres­i­den­tial race on elec­tion night, Bal­ti­more County School Su­per­in­ten­dent Dal­las Dance retweeted some­one else’s mes­sage call­ing for ed­u­ca­tors to show stu­dents who might feel threat­ened un­der a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion — among them peo­ple who are Mus­lim, black, Jewish or dis­abled — “that you love them and will pro­tect them.”

The move has since come to be known as “retweet-gate” by some in the county, given the out­sized re­ac­tion to it. There has been a call for Dr. Dance to re­tract his so­cial me­dia retweet, to pub­licly apol­o­gize and even to re­sign — all based on a mis­con­cep­tion that the mes­sage sug­gests Dr. Dance is in­clined to sup­port only marginal­ized chil­dren.

Let me clar­ify that grossly in­cor­rect sen­ti­ment: The needs of white stu­dents have al­ways been — and will con­tinue to be — pro­tected. That retweet was sim­ply a re­minder to stand up for those groups that have not al­ways en­joyed the same priv­i­lege in our coun­try.

I’d pre­fer to think that those who so grossly over­re­acted to this so­cial me­dia post from our young, black su­per­in­ten­dent were led by their emo­tions and not by ra­tio­nal thought. To that end, I say to those politi­cians, com­mu­nity mem­bers and fel­low mem­bers of the BCPS Board of Ed­u­ca­tion who let their judg­ment be clouded: It’s OK, it can hap­pen to the best of us. But it’s time to ad­mit the mis­take and move on.

I’m a proud, com­mit­ted and open­minded mem­ber of the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion for Bal­ti­more County Public Schools, with four chil­dren of color in our school sys­tem. I am not a trained ed­u­ca­tor, but it is un­de­ni­able to me that it is up to our ed­u­ca­tors to help pro­tect all chil­dren from the ug­li­ness of hate and teach them to re­ject it. And it is ir­refutable that our marginal­ized groups of chil­dren feel un­safe and vul­ner­a­ble, per­haps more so now than ever. How can you deny the ex­is­tence of racism, sex­ism, ho­mo­pho­bia or any other form of big­otry given so many ex­am­ples of it? Just take a look at the an­i­mos­ity, hate and vi­o­lence that has un­folded in the last year — or in the last week, with a racial slur scrawled in the bath­room of one of our state’s el­e­men­tary schools, swastikas found in a Mary­land mid­dle school, and a Bal­ti­more city mid­dle school teacher los­ing her job this week af­ter a par­ent posted video of the woman scream­ing at her largely African-American class, call­ing them “id­iots” and us­ing the N-word.

I’ve heard an “us vs. them” nar­ra­tive more than a few times from my seat on the dais at the school board meet­ings, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the past cou­ple of months. But I still don’t know who this “us” and this “them” is. We serve ev­ery one of our 112,000 stu­dents here in the 25th-largest school sys­tem in the coun­try. Col­lec­tively, our sys­tem’s grad­u­a­tion rate has risen to 88 per­cent, mark­ing five years of con­sec­u­tive gains, and the pro­grams we of­fer are for the ben­e­fit of ev­ery­one: thou­sands of new stu­dent-learn­ing de­vices, ex­panded ESOL and mag­net pro­grams, the place­ment of full-time so­cial work­ers in high schools to sup­port the so­cial and emo­tional de­vel­op­ment of our stu­dents, and in­creased fund­ing to help sup­port our grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of stu­dents with se­vere dis­abil­i­ties. In ad­di­tion, 40 of our el­e­men­tary schools have re­ceived “pass­ports” for Span­ish lan­guage in­struc­tion, and our fa­cil­i­ties are be­ing im­proved. In just the last year, we opened or ren­o­vated five school build­ings, in­clud­ing two high schools and three el­e­men­tary schools. In just the last five years we in­stalled cen­tral air con­di­tion­ing in 37 schools, and we have a plan to fin­ish the re­main­ing projects within just a few years. These are all sys­tem-wide ini­tia­tives, so who is “us” and who is “them” in Team BCPS?

My hope for the next few months and be­yond is that we can all con­tinue to talk and en­gage with one an­other. It has be­come even more es­sen­tial to dis­cuss our dif­fer­ences to take the mys­tery out of them, while at the same time rec­og­niz­ing we are one hu­man race. We must spread com­pas­sion dur­ing these times of tur­moil.

Our stu­dents need to know we are here for them. Par­ents need to know we are fully com­mit­ted to the suc­cess of their chil­dren. And the com­mu­nity needs to know that the path to eq­uity, in­clu­sion, re­spect and com­mu­ni­ca­tion is clear — and it is not go­ing away.

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