The Frederick County Teachers Association joined hundreds of other educators this week in hosting Black Lives Matter at Schools Week of Action to kick off Black History Month.

Chanese Goodman, Ayana Tompkins and Mi’Kea Hawkins — three members of FCTA’s human and civil rights committee — suggested bringing the nationwide event to Frederick County after seeing how the movement’s principles aligned with their own.

“I think this is a week for our voices to be heard, and I think the students and the teachers and the panelists have all spoken loud and clear,” Goodman said. “I’m just hoping that we’re being listened to.”

The first of the four tenets of the Week of Action was restorative justice over zero tolerance policies. FCTA invited Aje Hill, founder of I Believe in Me, to speak on this subject Monday night at a Zoom webinar.

“Frederick County Public Schools is no different than any other public school across America,” Tompkins said. “We have a high rate of Black and brown students being suspended and expelled from schools versus their white counterparts.”

FCTA President Missy Dirks said the organization has been working on banning zero tolerance policies for more than six years now.

Restorative processes would implement community leaders, mediation and processing and provide more equitable perspectives on rehabilitation, organizers said.

The second tenet was an inclusive curriculum that includes Black and ethnic studies, something else FCTA has been working on with FCPS. This year, for the first time, FCPS is requiring all teachers to teach at least two lessons related to African American history.

During a teacher panel Thursday night, Black educators spoke about their own experiences working in FCPS, and some voiced disappointment that the requirement was only two lessons.

Tompkins said the goal is to eventually not have to designate just one month for Black history, seeing that Black history is a part of American history.

“This is just a kickoff to say, ‘Hey, we’re doing something to honor our ancestors and honor the people who are making a way for other Black people within our community,’” Tompkins said. “But really it’s American history. And in terms of systematic racism, it’s always been [taught as] separate.”

During the Thursday night panel, teachers also talked about the Week of Action’s third tenet: recruiting and hiring educators of color to better represent the county’s diversity.

“There are five [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] in the area, and there is no reason why we are not constantly there, hiring and actually giving them more money,” Tompkins said. “A lot of the teachers that are being recruited ... they go to different counties, surrounding counties, where they get paid more.”

Oakdale High School teacher Ronnie Beard shared the statistics that for entry-level teaching positions, FCPS pays less than Montgomery, Howard, Carroll and Prince George’s counties in Maryland, as well as Loudoun County in Virginia.

Teachers also recounted experiences with racism in the school system, where many felt they were being targeted by white students.

FCPS high school students also shared their experiences. Goodman said some of her colleagues were disappointed that the instances of racism the students described were the same that they experienced more than two decades ago.

“A lot of people were really empathetic with the students,” Goodman said, “and I’m hoping they caught a lot of ears that needed to hear the situation that these students are still going through.”

The fourth tenet of the Week of Action is to increase the number of mental health professionals in schools. Dirks said this is a shared goal with FCPS.

As a school social worker, Tompkins said the need for more mental health professionals is especially dire during the pandemic, when children are more likely to suffer from unnoticed abuse.

Looking ahead, FCTA’s human and civil rights committee hopes to host more events and discussions outside of Black History Month.

“I think that there’s definitely progress being made, but there’s a lot of room for growth,” Dirks said. “So we need to keep that progress going.”

Follow Erika Riley on Twitter: @ej_riley

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