WASHINGTON—Public schools around the country are opening doors with increased security measures, heightened anxiety, and concerns about testing scores. Those are the challenges facing teachers. Many schools are facing critical shortages of counselors, teachers and bus drivers. Students have similar concerns. There is bullying, an increase in suicides, and self-harm, and many students are still recovering from COVID-19 learning losses.
“There’s an overall heightened sense of awareness about security considering what’s been happening in schools recently,” Saabirah Muhammad told The Final Call. She spent 13 years as a classroom teacher and is now the executive director of Endurance Literacy Center.
She explained that school shootings are one of many concerns. “Although parents are eager to get children back in schools, for many, this is their second full year of in-person instruction. There is still a looming uncertainty of the impact that the pandemic has caused. Teachers are leaving the classroom. We’ve seen the flight of educators. There’s a lot of uncertainty.”
In suburban D.C.’s Prince George’s County, Maryland, new Superintendent Millard House II announced in July new security measures to enhance safety and reduce weapons in schools. Last school year, 15 guns and 201 knives were apprehended.
Metal detectors will be installed in all high schools and some middle schools throughout the 2023-2024 school year. Clear backpacks are also required for many ninth through 12th graders. They are currently optional for sixth through eighth graders.
“Implementing a mandatory clear backpack policy will make it easier to observe and prevent dangerous items from getting into classrooms,” Dr. House said in a statement. The county gave away 20,000 clear backpacks at back-to-school events and helped students and families obtain clear backpacks so they wouldn’t be excluded from school.
Added to security concerns are issues around what students are taught. According to Education Week, Republican state lawmakers passed new legislation in Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, and other states regulating how teachers discuss racism, sexism, and issues of systemic inequality in the classroom. Eighteen states have imposed bans and restrictions either through legislation or other avenues.
This means civil rights activists both dead and alive have been erased from social studies and history classes in the name of protecting children’s innocence and comfort. Books by Black authors have been pulled off classroom and library shelves on the grounds that their perspectives are “divisive”—a word found in many of the laws.
While communities battle Republican legislators, the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) offered parents and community members a “Critical Race Theory Summer School: Fighting Back to Move Forward: Defending the Freedom to Learn.” AAPF founder Kimberle Crenshaw explained on her website, “Our focus is on the ‘war on woke,’ a dog whistle campaign conservatives have mobilized to undermine our democracy, impair public education, erase historical truths about Black history, circumscribe Black freedom of expression, and roll back the modest gains of the Civil Rights Movement.”
“By revealing how attacks on Black voices and ideas are connected to attacks on Black votes and Black lives, instructors at CRT summer school will provide participants with a roadmap to understanding, and the tools for combatting, growing and coordinated efforts to undermine core features of our democracy.”
She added, “Our aim at this year’s Summer School is not only to fight back against the ‘war on woke,’ but also to move forward with a campaign that centers Black history, intellectual traditions, and civil rights organizing as essential to progressive efforts to create a robust, multiracial democracy.”
Since Brown v. Board of Education legalized school integration, the hope of well-funded schools, relevant curriculum and discrimination-free environments have been a pipe dream. Many Black parents follow the tradition established in 1931 when the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad instructed his followers to homeschool their children.
Truant officers came to homes and demanded the new Muslims put their children back in the public schools that were full of racism. They refused. The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and his followers went to jail on the false charge of “contributing to the delinquency of minors.”
Mother Clara Muhammad, wife of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, taught children in her home. By 1932, those early days of homeschooling led to the development of Detroit’s new K-12 Muhammad University of Islam (M.U.I.). By 1975, that homeschool network expanded to four schools in cities like Atlanta, Miami, D.C. and Chicago.
Talib ul Hikmah Karriem is the Student Interim Director of Chicago’s M.U.I. Zero weapons were found last school year. He told The Final Call that Muhammad University of Islam “teaches our students to not only respect themselves and others, but in the way of righteousness, decency, and self-respect. School is not just about letter grades, schooling and education is about cultivating the human being into their full potential, which is to be a God.”
“Returning back to Muhammad University of Islam is another opportunity for children and staff who are students too, to get closer to God through the study of what God revealed to us through the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.”
In Florida, many parents are questioning whether students can receive an honest education due to the state’s new education standard regarding the teaching of Black history in public schools. In the updated standard, it explained that middle school lessons must include “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” The new curriculum follows Florida’s House Bill (HB) 7, passed last year that prevents students from learning lessons that imply anyone is privileged or oppressed based on their race or skin color.
“Seeing what’s going on in public schools nowadays helped us to make the decision that the public-school setting was not going to give us the best experience for our child,” Obafemi Kinsiedilele told the media. He and his wife, Kwaeisi, are the founders of Blknproud Homeschoolin’ Village. They’ve homeschooled their children for five years and saw the need for community amongst fellow Black homeschoolers. Their company was created to solve that problem.
“We both are students of education and early childhood development. We are both into our history and culture and we have an understanding that the public schools are only going to go so far with telling our story,” he said.