Bastion against bullies: Larry Rogers runs for D3 BOE

Larry Rogers is running for the Anne Arundel County Board of Education in District 3 (Pasadena, Lake Shore) this year to overhaul how schools address these issues. The candidate--a lifelong Anne Arundel resident, softball coach and nonprofit volunteer--has pledged to make parents, students and teachers feel safer and more productive in the school environment, first and foremost. Rogers has lived in Pasadena for 20 years, but he grew up in Linthicum and attended county schools, including the community college, before graduating from Johns Hopkins in information science, a field he still works in. Rogers, who has two daughters enrolled in county schools, was shocked by the stories of fighting and bullying he heard from them, having never experienced such violence and aggression when he attended school in the county. Then he saw it first-hand himself as a volunteer at George Fox, a middle school in Pasadena. “Middle school is not great for anyone, but I was surprised it had gotten worse, not better,” he said. “I’m trying to get these problems solved that myself and other parents always struggle with. Here is an opportunity for me to save some of these parents from frustration.” Maryland schools have long struggled with violence and bullying behavior. Roughly 7.8% of high school students reported being threatened and 18.2% of high school students reported being bullied, a 2018 report from the Maryland Department of Health found. Both of Rogers’ daughters experienced violence and bullying in middle school. His older daughter was attacked at random in the hallway, and his youngest was assaulted last year by two students in a Spanish class. “She was concerned about her safety for awhile before returning to school,” Rogers said. Rogers has proposed one approach to dealing with troublemakers. He’d increase capacity for students at “alternative learning institutions” in the county, such as Mary Moss and Phoenix Academy. Those institutions are equipped to teach troubled students in smaller classrooms and thus aid them better, Rogers said. It will also remove them from standard public school classrooms, so remaining students can learn in a more positive environment. The Maryland State Department of Education guidelines require schools to work with offending students to give them opportunities to learn from mistakes. They reserve shipping them off to alternative institutions for only the most severe cases. But Rogers said it’s a feasible solution that would reduce violence by separating only the most aggressive and violent students from the nonviolent ones. “When you go out to any one of these middle schools, it’s a handful of students committing severe acts of violence. It’s not the student body at large,” he said. “My daughters have performed well, but even they find it disruptive. What about kids that can’t perform well?” For Rogers, it’s really about creating a better environment for all. He’s discussed the issue of classroom disruptions with teachers in the county, and he’s found them wanting to create a good learning environment. Rogers aligns with The Right to Teach Act, legislation proposed in the state legislature this session that would allow teachers to remove students they find disruptive from their classrooms. Currently, teachers are beholden to administrators who determine when a student can return to class. “They send a student who is being disruptive to the office,” Rogers said, “and then the student reappears ten minutes later.” It’s not just in the classroom where students struggle with bad behavior. Social media has become a breeding ground for bullying and negativity, Rogers said. For example, an Instagram page from a George Fox student has sensationalized school violence. Fight videos between students are all over the page, almost rewarding violence and bullying, he said. Rogers has proposed educating parents and students alike about properly using social media. He said some parents are not even aware of what their students can do or have done on their phones. He said the effort will also support mental growth, as many students in the county continue to experience poor mental health. All three candidates in District 3 have pledged to address the mental health crisis, too. Anne Arundel County has seen an increase in youth suicides over the past few years. From 2012 to 2016, the rate of youth suicides increased from 5.3 per 100,000 to 7.8, according to an Anne Arundel County Department of Health report. “Our district currently leads the county in suicide attempts. You can almost follow the curve, it starts in the 2008 time frame when social media bubbled up,” Rogers said. “They spend their whole youth trying to learn how to interact with each other, and then they find this whole wild, wild west with social media.”