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‘Unacceptable’ — Montgomery Co. leaders react to reports of racist abuse at high school games

Rick Massimo and Kate Ryan

Principals from two Montgomery County, Maryland, high schools met with students and school equity teams Monday to deal with racist comments made at recent sporting events.

The incidents happened at girls’ soccer and volleyball games between students from Einstein and Sherwood high schools Sept. 30 and Oct. 4. At each, students and student-athletes from Einstein were subjected to what Einstein principal Mark Brown called in a letter to parents “racist and sexist” comments from the Sherwood spectator section.

Brown said the comments led Sherwood principal Tim Britton to call him and apologize.

On Monday, the two schools sought to meet up in what Brown called “restorative circles,” aiming to “highlight and work through the harm” that bigoted language can cause.

Brown said, however, that that wasn’t all: “While restorative circles help, the students and spectators who engage in this offensive behavior need to be addressed directly and specifically. Being part of an athletic team and attending athletic events are privileges that can be taken away.”

In an online briefing Monday, Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker called the behavior “completely unacceptable and outrageous,” while Vice President Gabe Albornoz called them “not in line with our culture and our community.”

He said school sports organizations should have their own policies on reacting to such problems, and that all groups should make sure “there is no wrong door to report incidents of hate or racism in this county.”

Aryani Ong, founder and co-director of the Montgomery County Progressive Asian American Network said she’s pleased to hear that the school system’s equity initiative unit is facilitating the dialogues that Britton and Brown have called for.

The equity unit does “wonderful work in terms of supporting the students, really understanding and listening to their needs,” she said.

Ong believes that restorative justice is the right approach under the circumstances, “especially dealing with school-aged children who are learning their way—this is a learning opportunity.”

Ong said based on some of the work her organization has done, she’s heard from Asian American students who feel as if they are not seen outside of a stereotype.

“They wanted to be known other than the one dimension that gets reported disproportionately, which is just about their academic achievement,” Ong said.

Ong spoke highly of the school system’s equity initiative unit, but she would like to see its work expanded—with more staff added, so there would be more school-based staff working in clusters throughout the school system.

COVID-19 numbers

Also on Monday’s call, public health emergency preparedness manager Sean O’Donnell said that he expected the Food and Drug Administration would be looking at data and making a call on booster shots for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines this week. A booster shot has already been recommended for the Pfizer vaccine among those who are over 65 or whose health conditions or jobs put them at increased risk.

O’Donnell also said the county was still in a state of “substantial” community transmission of COVID-19, according to the federal standard, which is what the county relies upon, as opposed to the different Maryland standard, which would put the county in the “moderate” category.

He added that Black county residents are within one percentage point of white residents in vaccinations, while Hispanic and Asian residents are even higher.

That said, the case rate among Hispanic and Black populations, and the hospitalization rate among Black residents, are both higher than the average, O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell also said 99% of eligible county residents have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.


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