Thursday, April 27, 2017

Now More Than Ever

In light of yesterday's post, I wanted to share this testimony presented by Deeba Jafri to the County Council on April 24th, 2017. It was written on behalf of Together We Will Howard County by Deeba Jafri and Becca Niburg. I am sharing it with their permission.

Chairman Weinstein and Members of the County Council,

I come to you tonight to testify about the HCPSS budget on behalf of Together We Will Howard County, an organization of 1200 members who reside or work in Howard County. I also have two children in HCPSS schools, in fifth grade and ninth grade.

I am here to request that the position of Diversity Coordinator be funded. Specifically I am asking you to place enough funds in the mid-level administration category for this position, about $150,000.

Last year the Board of Education created the position of Diversity Coordinator. However, when the County Executive didn’t fully fund the requested education budget, the position ended up on the cutting room floor.  

And then the current school year happened. It has been particularly traumatic for minority group students, with numerous major racial incidents and who knows how many other major and minor micro-aggressions that don’t even get reported.  We feel very strongly that we need this position now more than ever.

We can only assume that you have also seen news reports and heard from school personnel about the heart-wrenching activities that go on in our schools as listing them now would leave no time for any other testimony. It is not just the victims of these actions that have taken notice, two countywide initiatives were started as a result of what was happening in HCPSS,  OneHoward and Stand Up Howard. Both these initiatives were designed to start hard conversations about race and diversity within our community and to create a space where we could figure out how to improve tolerance and acceptance.

HCPSS should not be turning a blind eye to those actions that made these other public discussions necessary. HCPSS needs to take this issue of racial discrimination and diversity more seriously by leading the way in looking at how to improve the education experience for all students.

Now we are at school budget time again. The $572.2 million that the County Executive has proposed creates a $53.9 million shortfall in what was requested by HCPSS. That’s a huge gap and we are very worried that yet again the Diversity Coordinator will not be funded. 

In the light of all the events that have taken place in this past school year plus the very general need we have for a Diversity Coordinator in a county where 60% of the student body is minority and African American children are 8 times as likely to enter the discipline pipeline, it is imperative that the funding take place for a Diversity Coordinator.

A Diversity Coordinator could look into hiring practices and work to ensure that our students see themselves represented in the people who are teaching them. This would be a win-win for all students and for the community at large as a focus on education makes our County of choice that much stronger. 
There will always be tough decisions to make and we do not envy those choices you will need to make in the coming weeks, however the Diversity Coordinator should not even be a consideration of where a cut can be made. Currently, the make-up of our student body is American Indian/Alaskan 0.2% Asian   21.2% Black/African American 22.8% Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 0.1% Hispanic/Latino  10.4% White   39.1% Two or more races 6.2% 
In case you didn't add as quickly as I spoke, that means that we have a 60% minority student body (and that doesn’t even count our Jewish students who have faced many incidents of anti-semitism this school year).  And currently, only 11% of our teachers are minority.  This position will be a champion for 60% of our student body and improve the experiences of all our students. Don’t leave 6 out of 10 students voiceless in the current climate. 

On a personal note, if you would permit me a bit: I was tidying the teenager’s room while he was on band trip. He’s in 9th grade now and in his treasured possession spot, he still has the good behavior note from his 3rd grade teacher, Mr. Biskey, the first male teacher he had. He still visits him. These things matter. They are impactful. 
Curriculum gaps. The oft-most cited problem my son has. Surprise, it started with the American Revolution and the War of 1812 where I had already given him the British perspective, which of course didn’t quite fit with what he was being taught in his American classroom. It goes on and on, a wish to more fundamentally learn about Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and the civil rights movement from an African-American perspective rather than from a white one. The list goes on. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, from a Japanese perspective. He believes he’ll never get that in his school, that he has to search these things out for himself. But it doesn’t have to be this way.  
You have a chance to say yes to funds for the Diversity Coordinator so that our young students can see themselves reflected in their teachers. It’s a simple thing that could be so powerful.  Out of a budget of $572 million, the $150,000 necessary to fund this position is not even a drop in the bucket, but its potential for impact is immeasurable.

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