Councilwoman Christiana Mercer Rigby released the following press release yesterday afternoon: (Note – I took the original image of the release and ran it through an OCR program…hopefully it got every character correct):
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Felix Facchine, 410-313-2001
Councilmembers Mercer Rigby, Jones, and Jung Call on
Howard County Public School System to Develop Integration Plan
Ellicott City, MD (August 13, 2019) – Howard County Councilmembers Christiana Mercer Rigby, Dr. Opel Jones, and Deb Jung will introduce a council resolution in September calling on the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) to develop a county-wide integration plan to desegregate its schools. Currently, school district boundaries in Howard County are drawn in a manner that concentrate students participating in the Free and Reduced Meals program (FARMs) into certain elementary, middle, and high schools.
This socioeconomic and racial segregation in the school system is contributing to increasing achievement gaps and decreasing graduation rates for low-income students and students of color. Historic systems have created these achievements gaps and it is incumbent on the County to introduce new systems that foster necessary change.
“I’m extremely proud of this resolution because it recognizes the past and promotes a fair and balanced future for our Howard County Public School System students,” said Dr. Jones. “We are working together to resolve the Problematic and systematic inconsistencies that lower-income students face every day. This resolution helps to enhance, promote, and encourage a unified and socioeconomic blended education system for all.”
“While we often claim to prioritize diversity and inclusion in Howard County, our school districts do not reflect the values of integration and community that we have built our county on,” said Councilwoman Mercer Rigby. “For decades, Howard County public schools have become increasingly segregated by race and socioeconomic Status. Redistricting is a civil rights issue here in Howard County, and it’s time to take meaningful strides toward
integration in our education system.”
In the last three years alone, graduation rates for students participating in the FARM program have dropped from 83% to 78%, which is 17% lower than the graduation rates for non-FARM students. During the same time frame, FARM program students have become increasingly concentrated in the same elementary, middle, and high schools in Howard County. These disparities in student outcomes can be found in the Howard County Public School System’s 2019 Feasibility Study and 2019 Equity Report presented to the Board of Education.
“As Chair of the Howard County Board of Education, capable of casting only one vole. | support this resolution that focuses on the socioeconomic and racial desegregation of Howard County Public Schools,” said Mavis Ellis. “Many have called for equity, and it’s the Board of Education’s hard decisions that will make equity happen for all students in Howard County.”
“There’s a strength in diversity that benefits our community. Legislation and resolutions alone cannot solve socioeconomic challenges of promote true racial integration; however, they can provide platforms that allow us to correct past errors,” said Candace Dodson-Reed, founder of the African American Community Roundtable of Howard County and education advocate. “I applaud Councilwoman Mercer Rigby’s and Councilman Jones’ leadership and effort as they work with the community to ensure that each child in our public school system has. everything they need to be successful.”
“Let’s reclaim Columbia’s dream of equal opportunity for all by rebalancing the socioeconomic and racial profiles of Howard County’s public schools,” said Councilwoman Jung. “We know what we have to do. and we know the time is now.”
Numerous academic studies indicate that diverse, integrated classrooms lead to better academic outcomes for all students, while increased segregation leads to greater achievement gaps for low-income students and Students of color. While the school system undergoes its School Boundary Review Process, Councilmembers. Mercer Rigby, Jones, and Jung call on HCPSS to comprehensively address the socioeconomic and racial segregation in Howard County Public Schools through a meaningful redistricting process.
The proposed resolution will be pre-filed on August 23, 2019 and will be introduced al the Council’s legislative session on Tuesday, September 3, 2019. Testimony will be accepted al the legislative public hearing on Monday, September 16, 2019. To sign up to testify, visit https://apps.howardeounlymd.gov/otestimony/. If you would like to submit your testimony electronically, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the original image of the news release:
I could write and write and write on this topic for a long time…but instead I am going to just provide a few comments (and be as brief as I can) on the items that struck me with this release:
- Timing – The HCPSS Superintendent is scheduled to release his recommendations to the Board on August 20th…so why is this coming out now? The School Boundary Review Process has been going on since early/mid June and this could have (or should have) come out much earlier in the process. It is also odd that this press release comes out when the Howard County Council is on recess during the month of August. MACo’s Summer Conference starts today and I am betting that some of the councilmembers will be attending. So the timing of this announcement is just a bit odd.
- Blame – These three county councilmembers have squarely pointed the blame at the school system for this problem. I find it odd that there is no mention on the role of the County Council and the development process, policies and practices that have lead to the concentration of low income families in certain areas of this county. I guess to do that would be to point the finger at themselves and past members of County Council…some who hold other positions now (County Executive Calvin Ball, State Senator Guy Guzzone and State Delegate Courtney Watson to name a few that have been on the Howard County Council). Will this County Council also provide a resolution to change the things that have lead to the current or future concentration of low income families in any one area of the county?
- Details – There are no specifics in this press release on what the councilmembers are looking for specifically. Maybe this has been discussed behind the scenes…but nothing out to the public about the specifics. Are they looking for the school system to come up with a plan that has no more than x% of student receiving FARMS at any one school? What will be the consequences if the school system does not comply? Is the council looking for school districts in Howard County to look similar to Maryland congressional districts…imagine for a second if our school boundaries in the county looked like some version of this (map of congressional districts in central Maryland):
I like the idea and practice of keeping communities together in schools and hope something like the map above is not what is intended going forward for our school boundaries.
- Adversarial Environment – Is it just me or does there appear to be an outright adversarial environment in our county right now between the county elected officials (County Executive and County Council) and the school system? I mean we just got through the whole school audit issue that required legislation…and now this. Why does it take legislation for these folks to work together on important issues?
- HoCoBOE Chair Mavis Ellis – I was shocked to see a statement from HoCoBOE Chair Ellis in this release. I wonder if she knew the content from all of this statement in advance. This looks like (to me) she is publicly stating the yes, the school system is solely responsible for the grouping of students receiving FARMs into certain schools and yes, we need to have legislation to make us do the right things going forward. On the other hand maybe this is cover for the future by being able to state “don’t blame us for the radical redrawing of the school boundaries…the Howard County Council made us do it this way”.
- Other statements from elected officials – I have not seen anything publicly from our County Executive (Calvin Ball), two Howard County Councilmembers (Walsh, Yungmann) or six of the other HoCoBOE members (Delmont-Small, Taj, Coombs, Mallo, Cutroneo and Wu) at this point. Really looking forward to hearing their thoughts on this topic in the near future.
Look…don’t get me wrong…I fully support balancing out the income levels of the various schools (elementary, middle and high schools) in Howard County. It is an important thing to do and it should play an important factor that the HoCoBOE and school system should be looking at in this redistricting process. There is no question more could be done and my hope is that what we see on the 20th from the Superintendent reflects work that addresses this as well as keeping communities together in local schools.
I am sure much more will be coming on this topic…especially if and when the resolution comes out from the Howard County Council.
Have thoughts…let me know in the comments.