WASHINGTON — Montgomery County parents of Muslim students are asking the school system to improve the cultural sensitivity of teachers and staff to prevent their children from feeling maligned or singled out.
County school officials have assured the parents that schools are aiming to ensure that teachers and staff are sensitive to the emotional needs of Muslim students.
The Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring held a forum featuring school officials and the county’s Office of Human Rights Committee on Hate/Violence. Parents have expressed concern about the well-being of their children and charged that in some schools, teachers have shown a lack of sensitivity and sympathy.
“We take very seriously the safety of our students, physically and emotionally,” Dr. Kimberly Statham, Deputy Superintendent of the Office of School Support and Improvement, told the meeting.
“A lot of our kids are being bullied in school … because of their faith and beliefs,” says Jim Stowe, director of the Office of Human Rights.
One parent drew applause from the audience when she complained to the panel that her child’s textbook labeled as Muslims the 19 men who hijacked four airliners killing nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We keep very close track of hate crimes and hate incidents in Montgomery County. The good news is we don’t have a lot. We absolutely recognize that many of these incidents may go unreported,” says Montgomery County Police Chief.
The mom of two teenage daughters says her children have told her the school environment is not supportive enough to make her feel at ease.
“She said ‘they put me in a box.’ They see me in this big, black veil and this big, long skirt and she said, ‘mommy, I’m wearing jeans and a T-shirt,’” says Kamila Barbour, of Burtonsville.
School officials told the parents that each school in the county is required to have an action plan for “cultural proficiency” that includes teacher training promoting tolerance and sensitivity.