2020 | Schools

Thousands sign petition pushing MCPS for ‘anti-racist’ curriculum

Signees ask for more diverse staff, reading materials

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More than 6,000 people have signed a petition urging Montgomery County Public Schools to incorporate “anti-racist” lessons and materials into its curriculum, implement mandatory staff bias training, and build stronger relationships with Black community members.

The petition, authored by three Springbrook High School alumni, calls on the state’s largest school district to make a focused effort to provide more diverse reading and history materials and hire more Black staff members, particularly school counselors.

It also asks MCPS to commission an independent review of its curriculum to look for areas in which a greater emphasis could be placed on equity and diversity.

The petition, signed by more than 6,100 people as of 10 p.m. Monday, comes amid a renewed focus on race relations in the United States, sparked by the death of an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis in May.

The man, George Floyd, died May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, on the ground, for several minutes as three other officers watched. Chauvin and three other officers who were present have all been fired and charged criminally.

Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests and calls for police reform.

Some school districts have severed ties with local police departments and others — including MCPS — are considering removing resource officers from schools.

But the focus of the petition circulating among students, alumni, staff members and community members concentrates on educating students about the history of racism in the United States and taking a focused approach to eliminating it from classrooms.

“Now more than ever, we must teach and affirm to students that it is not enough to pay lip-service and say that racism is unacceptable,” the petition says. “We must be ACTIVELY anti-racist in all aspects of education and our lives.”

It calls on MCPS to “push for explicitly anti-racist education for students of all ages” by dedicating a “substantial portion” of social studies and humanities curriculum to teach the history of slavery, the “prison industrial complex,” the civil rights movement and other Black-led movements.

“By learning this history, students at MCPS would be directly informed about the causes and effects of systemic racism in addition to how it continues to afford privilege to white people and continuously disadvantage Black people,” the petition says.

The petition lists more than 20 possible books and literature the school district could include in its curriculum. It advocates for more diverse guest speakers for students.

It also asks for a reinvigorated effort to recruit Black teachers and counselors, cultural sensitivity training for all staff members; regular town hall meetings between the school board, administration and community members; and the establishment of a task force to address racism and “anti-blackness.” The task force — whose members would be compensated, according to the petition — would be made up of staff members and administrators. It would be a liaison between schools and the school board.

Finally, the petition recommends that a similar plan be developed for all minority groups.

The petition will be submitted to the school board prior to its meeting on June 29.

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