UPPER MARLBORO — The Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Board of Education made strides in their last meeting by approving a resolution to observe Ramadan and a workgroup to focus on ending the school to prison pipeline on April 25.
The Board of Education (BOE) unanimously approved the decision to commemorate the month of Ramadan from May 6 to June 3. With an estimated five million people who practice the Muslim faith living in the U.S. and the students and faculty of PGCPS coming from a variety of diverse backgrounds that include Muslims, the resolution passed as a way to acknowledge the faculty and students who will be fasting during the month of Ramadan during the school day.
District 5 Board Member Raaheela Ahmed commended the board for passing the resolution.
“To my awareness, this is the first time this school district has recognized Ramadan and that’s a big deal,” she said. “Not only to me as a practicing Muslim, but the thousands of students and staff members and parents and families that observe it.”
Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the United States as well as the state of Maryland, said President of the Prince George’s County Muslim Council (PGMC) Jameel Johnson, but since 9/11, Muslims have had to fend off negative stereotypes and hate incidents. That includes acts of bullying against students, not only by other students but by staff and principals in the Prince George’s County System which the council has had to deal with up to this point.
“Ramadan is a special time for the Muslim community,” said Johnson. “In the Quran, Allah said ‘fasting has been given to you as it was prescribed for those before you to teach you self-restraint.’ It is about disciplining ourselves not only to be better worshippers but to be better human beings.”
The BOE also passed a proposal to set up a community to school to prison pipeline workgroup. The mission of this workgroup would be to study the current disciplinary practices within PGCPS and examine national best practices to make policy and budget recommendations to the board.
According to the BOE, suspensions and arrests have been an ongoing problem throughout Maryland, especially in Prince George’s County. During the 2016-2017 school year, 13,036 students throughout the state were suspended mainly for disrespect, disruption, fighting and inadequate attendance with African American students disproportionately affected.
In Prince George’s County, suspensions are at historically high levels with 7, 272 students suspended in 2016 and 8,827 students suspended in 2017. Free and Reduced Meal program students and African American males are disproportionately more affected than others.
Also during that year, 588 PGCPS students were arrested mainly for fighting or disorderly conduct. The county arrested significantly more than surrounding counties such as Montgomery County, who accounted for 304 arrests that year and Charles County who arrested 176 students. Students were arrested as early as seventh grade, and 70 percent were at or below the poverty line.
“We’re expecting them to be perfect, they’re not,” said Board Member Belinda Queen. “They will make mistakes, this is a learning environment for them…out there we have so many high numbers for the school to prison pipeline for us to be arresting our children, suspending our children, expelling our children, not realizing they are children.”
BOE Chair Alvin Thornton added that he hopes this workgroup could be the beginning of change not only in Prince George’s County but across the state.
“Our work will inform the state as it grapples with this major issue and that’s one of the joys that I think will come of this.”
“There is a direct connection between high concentrations of poverty, lack of economic opportunity and the criminal justice system. To the extent that we can use our own tax dollars to create economic opportunities for our citizens, and we have the moral and ethical obligation to do so,” said BOE Vice Chair Edward Burroughs who sponsored both the workgroup and the resolution to adopt the Pilot Community Workforce Agreements for fiscal year 2020 abatement projects which was also approved.
“While on the surface those look like two separate resolutions, our chair reminds us all the time that what happens in the community, what happens with families, has a direct result of what happens in the schools and the school to prison pipeline,” Burroughs said.
A group of members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) attended to testify the meeting to voice their support for the Pilot Community Workforce Agreement.
“With this pilot, the school system will be creating opportunities for county residents; thus this will be a proud moment for our residents and our union members alike…It is our hope that this is the beginning of a great lasting partnership between LIUNA and the PG County school board,” said Ricky Freeman, a construction laborer and LIUNA member.