A broad coalition of Montgomery County’s elected leaders, advocates and high-ranking officials are charting out a course for sweeping changes to the way the Latino community and county government interact—from classrooms to voting booths to street encounters with county police.
The Latino Youth Collaborative has since August 2009 compiled input from a wide swath of county agencies, youth advocates and immigrant activists to arrive at a report—made public Monday—that issues dozens of recommendations for improving access to social services, bolstering educational and vocational programs and instituting a top-to-bottom reassessment of county government’s cultural sensitivity.
For police, the suggested reforms aim to restore the Latino community’s trust:
- Transparency in the county’s relationship with federal immigration agents
- Oversight of the police department’s database of gang members
- A reassessment "stop-and-frisk" practices and officers' ability to photograph anyone they want
For schools, the report calls for educators to more deeply engage Latino youth:
- Broaden the availability of job- and career-based educational programs
- Use schools as "neighborhood based hubs for comprehensive services and education opportunities"
- Address the imbalance of Latino students who cannot maintain a 2.0 grade-point average, which makes them ineligible for sports and most extracurricular activities.
- Push for legislation to raise the age of "voluntary withdrawal" from 16 to 18
- Empower Latino parents to play a greater role in their children’s education
Other recommendations include:
- Creation of a Latino ombudsman
- Ensuring Latino representation on county boards, committees and commissions
- Drives to increase citizenship, naturalization and voter registration
- A public relations campaign to highlight Latinos’ contribution to Montgomery County’s well being.
The Latino Youth Collaborative traces back three years to a survey of more than 1,000 Montgomery County Latino students. That survey—conducted by Identity, Inc., a Gaithersburg-based nonprofit that works with Latino youths who have been in or are vulnerable to gangs—found that troubling numbers of students feel disenfranchised in the classroom and are pessimistic about the future.
The reform package signals that those issues are being taken seriously, supporters said at a press conference Monday in Rockville.
"It sends a message of hope to our Latino community," said Diego Uriburu, Identity’s deputy executive director. "… It symbolizes the end of finger-pointing and the end of applying superficial bandages to serious challenges."
County Councilwoman Nancy Navarro put the report in a context of the Latino population’s continued growth, pointing to the Census projections that nearly one-third of the county’s workforce in 2050 will be Latino.
"When I look around the room, I see faces that have been fighting, struggling, shouting to the winds for the past 25 years or more, trying to make sure that we have a comprehensive plan for our Latino community," said Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring. "… Some of us wanted to step up ahead and run and get in front of it. But this is the right moment, this is the right time, this is the right leadership."
That enthusiasm was tempered by the recognition that most of the reforms won’t come to fruition any time soon. Many require a thorough evaluation of every county agency, or the expansion or creation of services that have been slashed in recent budgets.
Though substantial gains will only come once the county’s fiscal plight improves, the process needs to begin now so that reforms can "move forward in a timely fashion" once the economy recovers, said County Executive Isiah Leggett. An "oversight commission" representing county government, the school board and advocacy groups will form in the coming weeks and begin prioritizing which recommendations to address first.
"We do not want a report that will simply sit on a desk, garner dust and not be seen," said Leggett (D). "We want to turn this into action and implementation."