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Banning Hate Symbols At Baltimore County Schools Will Be Investigated By Superintendent

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John Lee
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Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Darryl Williams will look into whether hate symbols like the Confederate flag should be banned in the county schools.

The Baltimore County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to order the inquiry and directed Williams to report back by January.

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Credit Baltimore County Public Schools
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Baltimore County Board of Education Student Member Josh Muhumuza.

Josh Muhumuza, the student member of the school board, called for the vote.

“This issue has been prevalent in our county for a long time,” Muhumuza said.

Democratic Delegate Michele Guyton wrote a letter to the school board and superintendent last month asking for the ban on hate symbols like the Confederate flag, nooses and swastikas. A dozen Democratic legislators who represent Baltimore County as well as one Republican, Senator Chris West, have signed on to that letter.

Guyton said she has heard complaints that the proposed ban would violate free speech, but she is mostly hearing from people who back it.

“If we don’t do this now I don’t know when it will happen,” Guyton said.

There is debate over who should take action, the school board or the superintendent.

Margaret-Ann Howie, the county schools’ general counsel, recently told a school board committee that principals and superintendent Williams have the legal authority to ban the symbols now.

The school dress code does not specifically ban hate symbols, but it does say students cannot wear something that is disruptive or offensive. 

Likewise, the school system’s rules against bullying give the superintendent and principals the authority to take action against things like offensive stickers.

“I believe that the administration currently has the authority to act,” Howie told the committee.

But others have questioned whether leaving it up to individual principals would mean the policy would be interpreted inconsistently across the school system.

Mychael Dickerson, Superintendent Williams’ chief of staff, said the school board should take action and vote as a body to change policy countywide.

“Delegate Guyton is calling for the banning of items, and that certainly should be done legislatively and through policy in the student code of conduct,” Dickerson said.

When introducing his resolution Tuesday, Muhumuza called for a “potential prohibition by the board of hateful speech and symbols.”

Guyton said she also plans to draft legislation that would ban hate symbols at public schools statewide.

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