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Hate Symbols Ban For Schools Dies In The Legislature

J Holsey Photography
Black Lives Matter group protests last summer in rural Baltimore County

Legislation to ban hate symbols like swastikas, Confederate flags and nooses at public schools statewide easily passed the House of Delegates but died in a Senate committee when the General Assembly adjourned last week.

Del. Michele Guyton, a Democrat who represents a rural, mostly White area of Baltimore County and the bill’s sponsor, said she’s not sure why the legislation failed.

“I was surprised the bill didn’t pass,” Guyton said. “I thought this was a bill that would really be well-appreciated by this year’s legislative body.

She said she hasn’t decided whether she will propose it again next year.

Guyton said her three sons, who graduated from Hereford High School, would come home upset after seeing the symbols.

Guyton said hate symbols are more than a Hereford High problem. Her legislation would have required school boards statewide to adopt a policy by the end of the year that would prohibit the display of hate symbols.

Several school systems in Maryland, including Anne Arundel, Howard and Carroll counties, already have a ban on hate symbols. Most, including Baltimore County, do not.

But in Baltimore County, that may be about to change.

The school system’s attorney, Margaret-Ann Howie, recommended earlier this year the board adopt a hate symbols ban.

Howie said that while students have first amendment rights to free speech, the school board has the legal authority to ban speech that interferes with the work of the school or impinges on the rights of other students.

“Messages by their very nature that are designed to intimidate or to express hatred could be considered disruptive and, in my opinion, can be suppressed,” Howie told the board.

The proposed county ban currently is being studied by a school board committee.

Joshua Muhumuza, the student member of the Baltimore County Board of Education, said that if the board passes the hate symbols ban, it will show “that our board and school system unequivocally denounces any symbols or speech of hate and violence towards any demographic.”

If hate symbols are banned in the county, teachers could still use them in classrooms if they are part of instruction.

“This is something counties can do right now,” Guyton said. “My recommendation to folks who live in areas that don’t already have this policy in place is to reach out to the local boards of education and try to get it moving in their own jurisdiction.”

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