ROCKVILLE – While the county has seen a recent wave of hate crimes and incidents, the best way to mitigate it is not easy for public officials to answer.
Particularly in Montgomery County Public Schools — where there are documented incidents of graffiti swastikas or students using racial slurs — the answer to dealing with them is not easy, especially as the problem may be getting worse.
Speaking to the 2019 Social Change Conference, Councilmember Tom Hucker (D-5) warned about growing hate in the county and beyond, saying it’s becoming an increasingly difficult problem for the county to counteract.
“We’ve seen swastikas increased in schools in Montgomery County and shootings in mosques as far away as New Zealand, and bigotry and hatred are on the march,” Hucker said. “And dictators and authoritarian regimes are growing around the world, incredibly because of the climate that has been created by the temporary occupant of the White House and others.”
For Hucker and many of other of the county’s politicians, United States of America President Donald J. Trump is to be blamed for inspiring racial animus throughout the country; however, according to Montgomery County Police (MCP), the hate-biased incidents are due to the political scene generally.
Whatever may be the cause, there have been several high-profile incidents of hate in the county, particularly in MCPS. This is something that county leaders do not have an easy solution for.
“Even here in Montgomery County, we’re particularly affected by this because we are one of the most-diverse places in the country, if not the world,” Hucker said.
In May, school officials found a swastika drawn inside bathroom at Silver Creek Middle School in Kensington. Two months earlier, school officials found a swastika drawn inside a bathroom at Bannockburn Elementary School in Bethesda.
In addition, in April, two Walt Whitman High School students posted a photo of themselves on social media with the n-word written on it. For many county officials, all these incidents are part of a growing trend that they cannot seem to stop.
At Churchill High School, desks were found to have swastikas drawn on them, and, in a separate incident, officials found “n-word passes” that supposedly gave other students permission to use the word.
“So, the last couple years, you know, there has been a resurgence in them,” said Troy Boddy, director of the MCPS Equity Initiatives Unit, of hateful incidents in schools. “And so, I think as a school system it’s like, now that we know that it’s in the space, it didn’t go away, how do we be proactive about it?”
Boddy touted that MCPS programs are meant to mitigate the rise in bias incidents, but incidents continued at schools. According to statistics from Montgomery County Police, there has been an increase in the past two years of a bias incidents at school, often some form of hateful graffiti. However, there were fewer bias incidents in 2018, with only 15 reported cases.
John Wambach, a music teacher at Bethesda Chevy Chase High School and Thomas W. Pyle Middle School, said he would like to see MCPS come up with a best-practices document for schools to deal with hateful graffiti or comments from students.
“All these schools have different reactions to this, and so you need to get principals together just like we’re getting these students together, so they know what other schools are doing to combat this,” he said. “I mean, every school is different, every community in these schools is different, but there is a lot of overlap.”