Protesters want Montgomery County Public Schools to address race issues

Published: Jun. 17, 2020 at 12:12 AM EDT
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Students in Montgomery County protested outside the school board office Tuesday night, asking that school officials better address race issues in the district.

The issues span farther than a response to the death of George Floyd. A lot of it got sparked because of the board switching platforms for virtual meetings to reduce the comments during the livestream.

Students, teachers and parents say that, coupled with the district's delay in showing solidarity on race issues, brought them out to protest.

“It’s very frustrating when I’m getting disciplined for defending myself,” said rising Christiansburg High School senior Kolbe Brown.

Brown is one of the students who helped to organize Tuesday’s protest.

“I know a lot of the black students in this county, we don’t feel like our voices are heard and I felt very much dismissed by our superintendent when trying to get a statement of solidarity,” Brown said.

Brown shared an experience of being called the ‘N’ word behind his back by other students.

“At this point in time I’m expecting it again,” he said. “I’m expecting to have an experience like that again, and that’s why I’m here so I don’t have to expect that. That’s why I’m here so my 7-year-old brother doesn’t have to expect that.”

It's a view shared by many others at the rally.

“My son’s sixth grade teacher was teaching him that slavery is not that bad for many of the slaves and I am not kidding,” said parent Rebecca Hester. “I’m telling you it’s not just about the curriculum. That kind of attitude trickles down and we have to do better by our kids because slavery was that bad.”

Beyond issues of name calling, folks demanded more education on African American history.

“Nothing has been said that I disagree with,” said Superintendent Dr. Mark Miear. “You’re exactly right. Kolbe, you’re right. Molly, you’re right. We need to do better.”

The superintendent took questions from the crowd, telling them to hold him and the school board accountable for their actions.

“I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have all of the answers, but I’m here to help,” Miear said. “I promise you that I’m here to help and I’m here to lead it and I’ll do whatever needs to be done to make it right, I promise you that.”

“I’m very happy that Dr. Miear got up to address the crowd and I hope he continues to address our issues and our concerns,” Brown said. “I just want to see the people who are teaching me, the people who are in charge care about me and care about my experience.”

The superintendent said he can’t do it by himself and that he even worries about his own family. He is the father of two children adopted from Guatemala.

“It scares me to death what’s ahead of them in their future because I know they’re going to face racism and it makes me mad,” Miear said. “This year I’m committing to every single teacher is going to have to go through implicit bias training.”

The superintendent mentioned the district’s work to pass a six-year strategic plan that helps to target and address issues of equality. 100 percent of the staff will have to go through this mandatory training this school year.

Miear apologized for not getting back to Brown’s inquiry sooner.

At Tuesday night’s school board meeting following the protest, board members read the students' requests:

• Anti-racist committees for accountability

• Anti-racist training programs

• Ongoing and systemic anti-racist/anti-biased teacher training led by minorities

• An examination of school policies

• Standardized tests and performance data determining student placements in classes

• Educational programs for students

• Open lines of communication for students to voice concerns (including anonymously)

• Revamp of county’s discipline practices

• Demand for action, words are not enough

The board agreed it’s a great list and outlines work that needs to be done.

Board member Mark Cherbaka said he wants to hear from all of the black students, families and faculty in the district to help them think through what else should be done because he said they could be missing things, too.

Miear said they will not tolerate teachers who stand idly by if racial slurs are being said at school. That’s something repeatedly mentioned during the protest.

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