Politicians respond to racism in schools
Some of the newly elected will be tasked with finding solutions to hate, bias
Nooses and written threats. Swastikas and Confederate flags.
Chesapeake High School has seen racist acts targeting African-Americans. These incidents recently spread to Chesapeake Bay Middle School.
While Anne Arundel County Public Schools has taken steps to address the issue, black and Jewish students in the area remain the targets of racism and antiSemitism. This includes a message written on a sheet of paper students use to sign in and out of counseling sessions that said, “Kill all blacks,” and a swastika drawn on a toilet seat in a boys’ bathroom.
The midterm elections introduced a new crop of politicians to state and local offices, and some of them will be tasked with finding solutions.
Steuart Pittman, the county executiveelect who beat incumbent Steve Schuh with 52 percent of the vote, said more support is needed for the students directly affected by acts of hate.
“It’s not the same as teasing. This shouldn’t be taken lightly,” Pittman said. “The victims of these incidents need to be offered counseling. The impact on these children should not be taken lightly.”
He also called for change at the classroom level, saying students should learn about the legacy of slavery — particularly in Maryland. He advocated for mandatory coursework on diversity and inclusion which, according to schools Superintendent George Arlotto, is in the early planning stages.
“I feel like the students in this county need to understand the history of slavery and racism in this community,” Pittman said.
“It’s unfortunate that their parents have not taught them this history and they come to school with hateful attitudes, but the school system has to address it and deal with what they’re given. Even if the attitudes in their households are the problem, we need to educate them in schools.”
Among other newcomers is Nathan Volke. The District 3 councilman-elect joins a group of six new faces on the Anne Arundel County Council.
Volke echoed the sentiment of Arlotto, who has called for a communitywide response to racism in county schools.
“Nineteen percent of the time, the schools have the students,” Volke said. “The schools share some part in it, but I think we as a community also have a part in it. I think we need to work in the schools to partner with PTAs and the school board to get some unity. There’s no place for this in our schools.”
Del. Nic Kipke was re-elected in District 31B. The Chesapeake High alum has represented the Pasadena area — dubbed “Kipke country” by Schuh — for 12 years.
“These types of racist displays are unacceptable and condemned by our entire community,” Kipke said. “I know the school system has been doing a lot to address this.”
The school district created a student equity team at Chesapeake High, designed to relay information to administrators about school climate. Kipke said he plans to reach out to the group and listen to their ideas.
Kipke also mentioned the acts of hate seen at the high school may be limited to a small group of students whose actions are “bringing everybody down.”
“It’s a shame because it’s depressing all the other kids,” Kipke said. “It seems like we’re on a treadmill where these incidents pop up every once in a while. The thing I’m concerned about is every time one of these things happens, it becomes sensationalized and I think it motivates the behavior.”
Attempts to interview Brian Chisholm, new to the House of Delegates, were unsuccessful.
Terry Gilleland, current Board of Education vice president, is in a unique position.
While he lost the race to represent District 5 on the school board, he will remain on the board to complete his term as vice president and District 31 representative. That mean’s he’ll continue to have a say in the direction of the school board and how it responds to racism.
“AACPS has a zero-tolerance policy on racism and we need to enforce the policy when these incidents occur,” Gilleland said in an email.
Gilleland was appointed to the legislative District 31 seat on the school board in 2016. The district includes Pasadena and Severna Park.
Tuesday’s election represents the school district’s move away from that structure. After the November 2020 election, every school board member will be an elected official from one of the county’s seven councilmanic districts.
Gilleland added he approves of the steps the school system has taken so far. Those initiatives include small advisory groups for upper and middle school students to discuss difficult topics in a structured environment and community circles — used in classrooms to encourage students and teachers to exchange information about themselves.
“The engagement (in those initiatives) is a start and it promotes both dialogue and understanding. I’m proud of the work of our students and teachers who are engaged,” Gilleland said.