School board moves closer to finish line on anti-racism policy

Sept. 29—Members of the Frederick County Board of Education on Wednesday discussed their vision for the system’s policy on racism.

The current draft policy is four pages long and outlines how Frederick County Public Schools should handle racial bias on an individual and systemic level. It calls on board members to “engage in regular, candid and action-oriented discussions of race and racial inequities in FCPS”; and covers issues from hiring and training to data collection to curriculum.

The proposed title of the policy has switched back and forth between “Anti-Racism” and “Addressing and Eliminating Racism.”

It was initially written in conjunction with volunteer members of the board’s Racial Equity Committee. It’s been edited and discussed several times by the board’s Policy Committee in recent months.

Wednesday, though, was the first time the entire board reviewed the policy. Members gave feedback and made suggestions before sending the document back to the Policy Committee for further editing.

Board members emphasized that the eventual implementation of the policy should be accompanied by regular data collection and analysis.

“We just don’t want it to be a feel-good document,” said board president Brad Young. “We have to be able to measure what impact it’s having.”

Officials also said it would be essential to gather students and employees’ thoughts throughout the process.

Several members and FCPS Superintendent Cheryl Dyson spoke about the importance of creating an efficient and standardized system for reporting acts of racism across the district and for responding to those reports.

“That’s how we build trust,” Dyson said, “and that’s how we sustain it.”

The draft policy includes a definition of “racism in FCPS.” Member David Bass said it should be updated to include a definition of systemic or institutional racism, too.

“One potential advantage of defining institutional racism would be to separate bad acts by people versus ongoing problems within the school system such as disproportionate suspensions, or not having enough students of color in honors classes,” Bass said. “There’s a difference between individual acts of racism and ongoing disproportionate outcomes.”

That idea was also part of the feedback from the local NAACP chapter’s education committee, which submitted comments on the policy earlier this week.

“To not include definitions of systemic and institutional racism is to ignore its existence, and point the finger at a few malevolent individuals,” the comments read.

NAACP Chapter President Willie Mahone echoed that sentiment Wednesday.

“They kept talking about what to do about individual incidents. But we know what to do about those,” Mahone said in an interview said after the board’s Wednesday work session. “The institutional things are the things that we really need to look at.”

Board member Jason Johnson said the board should commit to reviewing the policy every year, which is more frequent than is typical.

“I highly doubt we’re going to get it right the first time,” Johnson said. “This is a very big and important topic.”

Mahone agreed with Johnson, saying the school board shouldn’t rush the policy through.

Bass had said the board’s goal was to hold a final vote on the policy in November or December.

“We should take our time and do it correctly,” Mahone said.

Follow Jillian Atelsek on Twitter: @jillian_atelsek