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Message From the Superintendent: Responding to Recent Hateful Incidents

June 4th, 2020

The following message was sent to the HCPSS community by Superintendent Michael Martirano on June 4, 2020:

I hold a special place in my heart for every student and family member who calls HCPSS their home. I am reaching out to you in a spirit of love about recent troubling incidents, because they threaten the social-emotional well-being of every member of our HCPSS family, and threaten our climate of belonging and culture of dignity. In my heart of hearts, I know we, as a school community, can do better.

In our statement on Sunday, Board Chair Mavis Ellis and I responded to recent events occurring in our nation and noted with dismay the racially-charged social media posts recently surfacing in our own community. I want to re-emphasize how our entire community suffers when anyone in our school family feels their sense of safety and belonging is compromised.

I am saddened by the increase in the number of racially charged, hateful, and biased activities on the part of our own students since the school closure, and realize that there are many additional incidents that are not brought to our attention. These activities range from single statements directed to a particular group, to highly unacceptable rhetoric in reference to recent events, to racist images and comments being “bombed” into distance learning sessions by students at one school into another. Even more disheartening is the frequent defense that an action “was a joke and I meant no harm by it.” These are not joking matters, and are never appropriate.

HCPSS will not tolerate this type of behavior, which violates several Board of Education policies, including 1000 Civility; 1010 Anti-Discrimination; 1040 Safe and Supportive Schools; and 1060 Bullying, Cyberbullying, Harassment, or Intimidation. School and system leaders will assess every reported incident and impose appropriate consequences, which could range from a period of suspended digital access to an extended suspension from school. Please be assured that we investigate and respond to every incident, but cannot communicate details of the consequences due to privacy restrictions.

Furthermore, when appropriate, HCPSS will report social media activity that is racially-charged or reveals hate or bias to the Howard County Police Department, and will seek, with the assistance of law enforcement, hate crime charges. It pains me to take such drastic measures, but they are necessary because these acts directly threaten the safety and well-being of our students. I encourage any student who is fearful about reporting an incident, to share the experience with a trusted adult, either a family member or educator, who can report the incident for you.

System and school leaders will put in place supports to enable students who commit these acts to reflect on their choices, and will develop a plan for students to re-engage with the school community in a manner that honors the dignity of all students. Additionally, I am putting continued emphasis on staff training in establishing healthy interactions with students, so that we all work together to build a school community grounded in dignity.

Parents and guardians, I seek your support and collaboration in this effort. Please have the necessary conversations with your young people about this message as well as the statement issued last Sunday. Review the policies mentioned above. Talk to students about being kind to one another, valuing and honoring others, the power of words, and appropriate social media use. Most importantly, we as adults should always model the behavior we expect from our young people.

When I was a science teacher, I worked every day to make sure every one of my students felt valued and respected. I have always put relationships and community-building ahead of everything else, because I know that every student needs to feel that they belong in order to be their very best and achieve at their highest level. I have continued to carry this philosophy through every step of my career. I believe in each and every student and see their potential every day. I know in my heart that each desires to do the right thing. Together, we can make HCPSS the very best it can be.