Hate Symbols have no place in our schools

By Vita Shats.

It is 2021 and hate symbols are still not banned from schools. Something needs to be done about it. That something is the passage of HB 418.

I tried to do something about it before. I met with my school’s principal a few years ago to talk about implementing a policy. He said it was above a school-level decision. I found it ridiculous that it was rare for a student to face consequences for their actions of displaying symbols of hate at school. I made it my goal that by the time I graduate to do as much as possible to ban hate symbols.

In 2018 and 2019, I discussed banning Confederate flags from school property with my school’s administration but was met with resistance. I brought the issue to the county superintendent and my complaint was ignored. In June of 2020, I contacted the new county superintendent and was ignored yet again. Finally, I reached out to Delegate Michele Guyton and she quickly responded. She was fully supportive and together we started working to create a bill for this legislative session. She pushed the Baltimore County Board of Education to adopt a policy and is now sponsoring a statewide bill, HB 418, to require counties to implement a policy to ban symbols of hate.

This bill prohibits hate symbols that include but are not limited to Confederate flags, swastikas, and nooses. Confederate flags are historically known as a symbol of racism, slavery, and segregation. Swastikas symbolize anti-Semitism and terror. Nooses symbolize brutality, fear, and hatred. Some students display these symbols with the intention of making their classmates feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Others may not realize the impact displaying these symbols have on their classmates.

Baltimore County is currently in the process of passing a policy to prohibit the display of hate symbols that will be put in place for the 2021-2022 school year. They will join other counties including Caroline, Carroll, Howard, Montgomery, St. Mary’s, Talbot, Wicomico, and Worcester counties, but 15 counties are still lagging behind in adopting this necessary policy.

Last year my school had a big problem with swastikas being carved into boys’ bathroom stalls. Our administration had to close all of their bathrooms except one to keep an eye on them. Many students found this amusing and not at all terrifying. It is concerning that this is “normal” at my school.

There was also an incident where a student was wearing a Confederate flag on his belt and shoved it in a black student’s face. That student did not get in any trouble even after the black student’s parent had complained to the school.

Multiple students have Confederate flags on the back of their cars and never get in trouble for it. Coming to school to see students comfortable with displaying hate symbols is scary. It is unacceptable and exactly why we need this bill implemented.

We cannot keep allowing this to be “okay”. Students should never have to fear going to school because of their race, religion, ethnicity, or culture. I believe in freedom of speech, but hate symbols do not have a place in public institutions because they make students and staff feel unsafe. There are already policies banning vulgar language, drugs and alcohol, and depictions of violence and explicit actions. Hate symbols need to be added to the list of what is not allowed.

House Bill 418, banning hate symbols from school property, needs to be supported.

Vita Shats is a student of Maryland Public Schools; Photo by Dyana Wing So on Unsplash

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