The fallout of a divisive presidential campaign played out on social media after a state senator in Maryland blasted a message from the schools chief in Baltimore County that asked educators to embrace groups of minority students.
The exchange started after Baltimore County Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance, who is active on Twitter, retweeted a message posted by Joshua P. Starr, the onetime superintendent of Montgomery County’s public school system.
Starr’s election-night tweet had addressed educators: “tomorrow pls show your muslim, black, latino, jewish, disabled, or just nonwhite St’s, that you love them and will protect them!”
Dance retweeted it Wednesday morning, setting off an angry reaction that included an online petition calling for his removal.
“How about showing love to all students, every day?” one critic tweeted. “How dare you bring race and religion into this publicly.”
Said another: “Wow I can’t believe he just said that. What a racist. . . .”
State Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (R-Baltimore County), a retired steelworker who lives in Dundalk and supported Donald Trump in the presidential election, took to both Twitter and Facebook Thursday.
“I’m very disappointed and angry with this message that Dr. Dance, Superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, shared on his Twitter,” he wrote. “All messages like this do is pit students against each other and further divide them. National leaders, from both parties, have called for unity after the election. Messages like this do the exact opposite.
“For working class families in the 6th district, like my own, our support for Donald Trump had nothing to do with race or gender. It had everything to do with economic insecurity and the feeling as if our communities have been neglected. People on both sides fail to realize that and only make assumptions.”
“It is my hope, that moving forward Dr. Dance will focus on working to address issues like the grading policy and lack of A/C in Baltimore County schools . . . Moving forward, I will be working to unify my community and continue to listen to constituents of all races and backgrounds. I hope others will do the same.”
On Thursday afternoon, Dance issued a statement.
“As superintendent of one of the largest most diverse school systems in our country,” he wrote, “I always lead from an equity lens with an intense focus on all student populations and ensuring they feel welcome and supported. Education is not void of politics and during the last two years, our country has had one of the most divisive campaigns in modern history. Comments were made that disenfranchised several groups of students we serve in Baltimore County Public Schools.
“As our nation moves forward, it is our collective responsibility to make sure all students feel safe and know we are their advocates. As I continue leading our school system and as a member of several educational organizations, my continued focus is to work with local, state and national government representatives to move public education forward for all students.”
Starr said Friday in an email that educators must protect the physical and psychological safety of children who might feel scared or vulnerable because of hateful rhetoric during and now after the presidential campaign.
“I think the reaction to my tweet and to Dallas’ retweet are indications of how much there needs to be done in our country and our schools to help white people understand the role that race plays in society and schools,” Starr said. “Donald Trump’s campaign brought out the worst of America — xenophobia, racism, anti-semitism, misogyny and disparagement of LGBTQ and people with disabilities — essentially anyone that’s not a white male. While not all people who voted for Trump did so because they share these beliefs, disregarding their potential impact on kids is irresponsible of educators. Educators need to be on the front lines of addressing injustice however it may manifest itself. We’ve already seen examples of kids of color being subject to hateful speech and actions in schools since Tuesday.”
The debate took place as some teachers, particularly those at schools with large immigrant and minority populations, faced classrooms full of anxious and distraught students last week. Many scrapped lesson plans Wednesday in favor of discussing the election, seeking to ease fears that the students or their family members might be deported or that Trump might target Muslims.
The Facebook post by Salling drew scores of comments Thursday, including one that included a link to a petition calling on Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to remove Dance from his post. The petition has more than 2,200 names.
In an interview with The Washington Post on Friday morning, Salling said that the message Dance used labeled people in a way he found offensive. “When you say ‘nonwhite,’ c’mon,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you say ‘love everybody?’ ”
Salling said he is not calling on Dance to resign but believes that the schools chief should apologize. “I think we all have made mistakes, we all say things we regret,” he said. “I think an apology would be good, for starts.”
Salling said that after the polarizing election, it’s important for people to get along. “I’m American Indian,” he said. “I don’t care what race you are . . . Putting certain races in there, it causes division.”
Starr, who is now chief executive of Phi Delta Kappa International, a professional association for educators, also was fielding some negative reactions on Twitter, but some people voiced support for his message.
“I love this tweet,” one parent tweeted to Starr and Dance. “I heard some kids say some disturbing things at a BCPS yesterday. They need to hear this!”
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.