ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County Public Schools’ parents and students said the school system’s intentions of not tolerating hate are clear, though their levels of satisfaction varied.
Richard Montgomery freshman Isabelle Young, co-founder of school club RM Huddle, said MCPS responded in a satisfactory manner to incidents of discrimination that she and her little sister observed at school. Her sister witnessed a friend who was Muslim being called a terrorist at her elementary school.
“There had been a student, I don’t know where he had heard it from but he had said some pretty nasty things,” Young said, “but their school counselors actually handled it really well and talked to all the kids.”
After counselors spoke to the class about it, she said her sister said it didn’t happen again.
During her testimony at Rockville’s public hearing about immigration enforcement Monday, she said that a boy on her school bus made negative remarks about immigrants, but that administration addressed him about it privately.
“It’s been addressed with the student, who had done other things (too).” Young said.
She said her parents made an anonymous comment to the principal to complain about the behavior.
She said she believed the positive response to her sister’s class was due to the school being diverse.
“I think when you’re in such a diverse school, enough students realize that that that’s not okay and administration can react very quickly (to incidents of discrimination),” Young said.
Heather Sauter, a Northwood Parent Teacher Association cluster coordinator, said administrators at the high school took an active role in reducing hate-related incidents in the school. She said staff sent forms to report incidents of bullying or harassment home with students within the last two weeks.
“I think there is an effort to educate parents that there are procedures available or processes available for concerns to be expressed, for them to address concerns and incidents,” Sauter said.
She said she was generally satisfied with MCPS’ response to hate-related incidents.
“I think overall I’ve been very pleased with how they’ve handled it,” Sauter said. “They’ve been very consistent, (in) that it’s an inclusive school system.”
MCPS spokesperson Derek Turner said MCPS offers an outlet to discrimination and bullying through the anti-bullying report form, which is available online.
Turner said Smith is scheduled to announce additional inclusion initiatives during his comments at the full board of education meeting Tuesday.
“He’s going to be talking to you about a new initiative… how going to engage with schools to make sure we ‘are celebrating diversity and combat hate,” Turner said.
Smith said in a letter he sent to principals Feb. 23 that MCPS received numerous inquiries about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He listed measures that schools should follow if ICE were to enter or contact a school, which it is generally not supposed to do.
“While we do not intend to cause unnecessary alarm in our school communities, we want our families and students to know that schools are safe and welcoming and that we are working with other Montgomery County agencies and stakeholders to prepare and respond to any scenario,” Smith said in the letter.
He said MCPS recommended schools remind all staff and families that it is important to prepare for family crises situations or other emergencies, which could include ICE enforcement.
MCPS as a practice does not request students’ immigration status and that it would not provide information about students unless it is required by law, Smith said.
He told staff to avoid doing anything that might discourage undocumented immigrant students from attending school or participating in class, citing the Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe. That case concluded that under the Constitution, students cannot be refused an education based on immigration status.
Paul Geller, president of Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, said he believes the school system needs to take steps to address discrimination because of the increase in hate-related incidents coinciding with and following the presidential election.
He said he believes MCPS should have a curriculum for students as a way to teach them which behavior is acceptable.
“It’s great to have a written code,” Geller said. “It’s quite another thing to have a video presentation or a teacher presentation that would describe (to) the students in detail… what bullying, harassment and intimidation are, how they feel to the victim, maybe why the person who’s instigating it is doing it, and the longterm effects of it.”
He said he plans to meet with Superintendent Jack Smith to discuss issues such as discrimination and schools being safe spaces.
“We obviously need to do more because the argument has changed in this country, and in some places it’s becoming much more overt,” said Geller.
He said part of the challenge is that the problem is greater than just the County public school system.
“In some ways, we’re trying to change society in a microcosm here,” Geller said. “It’s not an easy feat.”