© 2023 WYPR
20th Anniversary Background
WYPR 88.1 FM Baltimore WYPF 88.1 FM Frederick WYPO 106.9 FM Ocean City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Racism In Baltimore County Schools Detailed In Forum

Baltimore County Public Schools

  Students, teachers and administrators who say Baltimore County schools have a problem of systemic racism, laid bare their feelings in an online forum Wednesday.


“This is a vulnerable moment for me, as a Black woman, as a Black principal and a mother of two Black students in Baltimore County Schools,” said Kyria Joseph, the principal of Millford Mill Academy, a high school in Windsor Mill.

Joseph said she feels vulnerable because whenever Black people provide insight on racism’s negative impacts, there is criticism and often backlash.

At Wednesday’s forum, Joseph came with the statistics.

40% of county students are Black, but only 18% of principals are African American, and 3% of county school principals are Black males.

Joseph asked why her son, who is a rising senior has had only one Black male teacher.

“I want to give the perspective of just the racial bias in our hiring, our staffing assignments, who is sitting at the table making the decisions,” Joseph said.

According to the state education department, about 12% of Baltimore County’s teachers are African American.

When members of Wednesday’s forum got into why that is, they described a vicious cycle.

School Superintendent Darryl Williams said there aren’t enough Black children who want to be teachers.

“If students aren’t interested by the high school time, then they’re not going to go into the field of education,” WIlliams said.

Pikesville High School graduate Omer Rashid said that’s because Black students are not seeing African American educators.

Rashid said minority students have told him, “Oh, teaching isn’t for someone like me. Being an administrator isn’t for someone like me.”

Abeer Shinnawi, who writes history curriculum, said schools don’t reflect the communities where minority students live. That can cause them to shut down and not be responsive.

Shinnawi said the students are not seeing themselves in the books they are reading and the videos they are seeing in class.

“Every aspect of this country was built by the black community,” Shinnawi said. “And for us to strip that away and not have our students, from kindergarten all the way until they graduate, not see that reflected until you have snippets of curriculum, is also damaging. Kids need to see themselves.”

Kelly O’Connell, the principal at Mars Estates Elementary School in Essex, said to see the institutional racism in county schools, just walk into a gifted and talented class.

“And I can see a class full of white students, with maybe one or two Black students, and without anyone telling me I knew that was the advanced class,” O’Connell said.

That is a failure of the school system, not the student, according to Lisa Williams, the executive director of the county schools’ equity and cultural proficiency department.

“Achievement gaps are more a description of the sufficiency or lack thereof of the structural supports that are in place to meet the pluralistic needs of our young folks,” Williams said.

Then there is Samantha Warfel’s experience. She is a rising sophomore at Hereford High School, a predominantly white school in northern Baltimore County. She said at Hereford High, racial slurs are tossed around as jokes and aggressive behavior against minority students has been brushed off as normal.

“I can only begin to imagine how such comments have affected and will continue to affect our Black and brown students within the Baltimore County Public schools,” Warfel said.

Other students talked about a racist culture in the schools that is being tolerated.

Josh Muhumuza, a Dundalk High senior and the student member on the Baltimore County School Board, challenged his fellow board members.

“Some members are elected and they have to please their constituencies,” Muhumuza said. “But sometimes you have to talk about things like race, things about discrimination of minorities. You have to be courageous.”

Near the end of the forum, superintendent Williams said what matters now, is what they do next.


John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
Related Content