Superintendent Monifa McKnight addresses rise in hate speech


Photo courtesy MCPS

MCPS Superintendent Monifa McKnight speaks to community members at Rockville High School on April 27 about a plan to address the rise in hate speech in Montgomery County schools.

By Ella Werkman

On April 27, parents, staff and students gathered at Rockville High School to hear MCPS Superintendent Monifa McKnight address the rise in incidents of hate speech in Montgomery County schools. McKnight proposed the Antiracist System Action Plan to combat hate speech, which the Board of Education approved on May 11. 

McKnight’s five-step action plan aims to increase the professional development of staff members regarding responses to hate and bias, train all central office employees to construct an environment that acknowledges and addresses the complexities around race, create a multicultural advisory group to monitor the plan, expand schools to include additional social justice assemblies and add a PreK-12 curriculum review through an antiracist lens.

The plan attempts to meet the needs of schools and communities by building a diverse staff to prevent racist learning environments. MCPS officials created the program in response to an increase in incidents of hate, bias and discrimination of race, religion, gender expression, sexual orientation and other personal characteristics, McKnight said. 

According to McKnight, there is on average one incident of hate or bias speech in the MCPS school system every day, which is three times the amount MCPS students experienced before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Students are spewing bigoted language, degrading the color of their peers’ skin, ethnic heritage, gender identity or faith,” McKnight said. “Drawing symbols of hate that leave their peers shocked, startled and hurting.” 

Sophomore Amelia Roscow hopes that the Board of Education will pass McKnight’s proposal to manage hate speech.

“It’s really nice to finally see some change,” Roscow said. “This plan needed to happen a while ago, and I can’t wait to see the changes it could make.”

Recent antisemitic incidents at Whitman likely contributed to the county-wide rise in hate and biased speech. On Dec. 18, 2022, the Whitman girls’ basketball team found antisemitic graffiti reading “Jews Not Welcome” painted on Whitman’s sign. On Feb. 5, 2023, debate club members reported antisemitic words spoken about Jewish students at a debate tournament in December. 

MCPS community member Janice Stanzione hopes the community will change for the better as a result of the proposal.

“It’s difficult to watch these children grow up in an environment where everyone doesn’t feel welcomed,” Stanzione said. “I can only wish for changes to come.” 

McKnight finished off her speech with a commitment to move forward with her plan and create change in MCPS school systems.

“At the heart of why we launched the antiracist audit was a commitment to uncover how our school system’s policies, practices and structures must change,” McKnight said. “We must change so that all 162,601 students are wrapped in belonging from the very moment they walk through our school doors.”