MCPS renews commitment to equity at Black and Brown Coalition forum

MCPS renews commitment to education equity for ‘Black and Brown’ students

Superintendent admits limited progress in past year

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Diego Uriburu, co-founder of the Black and Brown Coalition, speaks during a virtual forum on Thursday.

Screenshot via live stream

One year after committing to focus on improving education for Black and Hispanic students, Montgomery County Public Schools officials on Thursday night renewed their pledge — and admitted limited progress in the past year.

In October 2019, the newly formed Black and Brown Coalition held a forum in which it presented three requests to school and county leaders. All were focused on initiatives MCPS could implement to help narrow the nagging “achievement gap” between minority students and their peers.

The requests included:

• ensuring all students, but particularly Black and Hispanic students, have access to diverse and experienced teachers

• ensuring Black and Hispanic students attend schools led by diverse and experienced administrators

• ensuring Black and Hispanic students are enrolled in rigorous courses.

During a virtual meeting Thursday night, attended by more than 1,000 people, Superintendent Jack Smith rated MCPS’ progress in the three areas over the past year. On a scale of 1 to 10, he said MCPS rated about a 7 in providing access to advanced courses and about a 3 in the other two measures.

He said he’s “positive the work we’re doing will bring positive movement.”

But, he said, expected budget problems in the next fiscal year could hinder progress.

School district officials have said they expect the next budget cycle, for Fiscal Year 2022, to be one of the most difficult in recent memory as local, state and federal governments struggle amid the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

MCPS’ enrollment is down more than 4,000 students from last year, which will decrease the amount of funding the county government is required to provide.

A smaller budget means less funding can be directed toward initiatives outlined by the Black and Brown Coalition, Smith said.

“If that happens, the system will contract and we … will have less movement,” Smith said.

Diego Uriburu, a co-founder of the coalition, said the situation “is quite, quite dire for Black and Brown children and families,” particularly during virtual learning necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The compounding effects of decades-long educational health and social disparities were exacerbated by the disproportionate effects COVID has had, and continues to have, in communities of color,” Uriburu said. “It is as if we have been hit by multiple natural disasters, one after the other. But the educational disasters are not natural. They are man-made, so we can change them.”

During Thursday’s meeting, the coalition also released a new report that detailed problems minority students and families have experienced during virtual learning.

In July and August, the coalition, in partnership with researchers from the University of Maryland, interviewed 52 students, parents and staff members to evaluate virtual learning since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They found students need more access to their teachers, tutors and counselors; more frequent and clearer communication from MCPS about academic expectations; and more mental health and technology support.

Toward the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, someone wrote sexually explicit messages in the Zoom chat box, prompting the moderators to turn off the chat feature for the remainder of the meeting.

Uriburu addressed the comments briefly.

“Sometimes, when you want to move agendas forward,” he said, “people will try to stop us, but we will not stop.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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