Hate at School: March 2019

Hate incidents last month included threats and even violence. We’ve got to do better.
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As the school year winds down, we continue to see too many hate and bias incidents on school campuses. We counted 88 news reports of hate incidents during March, spread across 26 states and Washington, D.C. The month’s reports show a recurrence of unresolved problems, threats of violence and actual physical violence in some schools. They also show that many adults—from teachers and administrators to parents and community members—fail at providing a safe and just environment for students. 

This is what we observed: 

  • On par with what we typically see, the majority of reports were of racist incidents—about 54 percent. 
  • There were 21 news reports of anti-Semitic incidents, most related to swastikas. 
  • Eight reported incidents targeted LGBTQ students; four were Islamophobic; two were anti-immigrant and one was ableist. 


No Place for Violence

March brought its fair share of threats to schools across the country, from students and adults. 


Threats From Students

In Charlottesville, Virginia, a 17-year-old claiming to be a student at Charlottesville High threatened an “ethnic cleansing” at the school. Posting on the website 4chan, he used racist language about black and Latinx students and advised white students to stay away. Other users on the site piled on, with one commenting, “School shooting tomorrow.” The original poster was arrested after nine schools were closed due to the threats.

Two young men were arrested in Las Vegas, as well, after they were linked to a racist Instagram account targeting and threatening black students at Arbor View High School. The account, called “arborview[n-words],” included photographs and posts about black classmates.

According to local reports, one post read, “Looking at my high school I realized I need to cleanse the hallways. There are to many [n-words] in this school. We must act now.” Another, which appears to be a caption of a photograph of black peers, said, “God just seeing these [n-words] inferioates me. I just wanna go Columbine pt 2 just but only kill the fucking [n-words]. I can smell the fucking melanin.” According to local news, the students face charges including hate crimes and conspiring to commit an act of terrorism.


Threats From Adults

Threats against individual students also came from educators themselves. In Fernandina Beach, Florida, a sixth-grader told her mother that her class’s substitute teacher unleashed anti-immigrant sentiments in class. According to the student, these included telling a Latinx student that he’d get deported if he didn’t do his work. The student shared with reporters her notes, saying the teacher also criticized the boy’s English and told him he’d be “sent by Trump to a camp that illegal kids go.”

In Richmond, Virginia, an adult used the power of the legal system as a threat against children. A video captured a white police officer driving slowly alongside a group of middle school students of color just outside their school. Apparently chiding the students for something he overheard them saying as he drove past, he told them, “Just wait ’til your asses turn 18. Then you’re mine.” 


Déjà Vu

Every month, when we tally media reports of hate incidents in schools, we find echoes of what we’ve seen before. March, however, saw a surprising number of incidents that replicated earlier reports.


“N-word passes”

If you remember from our report last month, schools in Potomac, Maryland; Oconomowoc, Wisconsin; and Charles Town, West Virginia, all garnered attention when students shared or posted photographs of an “n-word pass” supposedly granting non-black students permission to use the slur.

This month, in Little Rock, Arkansas, high schoolers assigned to create a marketing plan made a certificate with images of Martin Luther King Jr. and former U.S. President Barack Obama with text saying “Congratulations!” and “N-Word Pass.” An image of the certificate was posted online, along with an explanation that said, “It was brought to the teachers attention whom then laughed.”

And in Troy, Michigan, a school made news when a student posted a photo of an “n-word pass” on Snapchat and Instagram.  


Slavery Simulations

Last month we also reported on ill-considered assignments or activities that asked students to participate in simulations of slavery. We’ve long emphasized the importance of teaching about hard history without simulating traumatic experiences. As Teaching Tolerance Managing Editor Monita Bell points out in “Another Slavery Simulation: We Can and Must Do Better,” our nation’s children deserve more from us. But this month, again, we saw slavery simulations make news.

In Bronxville, New York, white fifth-grade students during a social studies lesson were told to act as wealthy enslavers as they bid on their black classmates for a mock slave auction. The black students were understood to be wearing imaginary chains on their necks and wrists and shackles on their ankles—placed on them by their teacher. 

In Columbia, Tennessee, a reading class assignment involved middle schoolers answering questions from the point of view of enslaved people or enslavers. Questions included, “Would you rather be a slave or be shot and killed?” and “If you are a slave owner and one of your slaves is doing nothing, what should the punishment be? (You can have more than one answer).” 

And in Wilmington, North Carolina, a teacher had fourth-graders play a board game called “Escaping Slavery.” Among the rules were, “If your group runs into trouble four times, you will be severely punished and sent back to the plantation to work as a slave.” 


Patterns of Hate

Every month, anti-Semitic hate tends to take the form of graffiti or swastikas. Incidents that make news are usually captured via photos, videos or accounts of students making jokes about the Holocaust. March was no exception. In Newport Beach, California, a picture circulated on social media showing students at a party doing a Nazi salute while standing in front of red cups arranged in the shape of a swastika. 

A week later—and days after a Holocaust survivor shared her firsthand account with students—flyers displaying swastikas were placed around the school's campus.

Last month, we also published an article stressing the need for educators in Hoover, Alabama, to adopt anti-bias practices to prevent hate and bias incidents at school and to respond appropriately when and if they occur. We took this step in response to a video of white high school students expressing pro-Holocaust, racist rhetoric. 

Just last year, a teacher at Hoover High School resigned after using the n-word, but this year the school district hosted assemblies and small-group discussions about the racist incident at its schools. For at least one educator, however, the message of doing the work to improve the schools’ climate was lost. A white Spain Park High School teacher used the n-word and claimed, while talking to black students, that it was OK for her to say the word since everyone uses it. 


We’ve Got to Do Better

Most of the incidents this month occurred on high school campuses, but we know middle and elementary students aren’t immune to these experiences. This month in Hamden, Connecticut, for example, a student told a black fifth-grader that she should be hanged.

No matter the grade level or the age, we’ve got to put in the work to ensure our students are protected from this type of harm. It’s crucial that students get the message that there is no place for bigotry, threats or violence. 

We know that these problems won’t resolve themselves overnight and that schools are a microcosm of the world around us. So we’re here for ongoing support to help educators and schools get to a place that is safe, just and free from any kind of violence. Use our Responding to Hate and Bias at School guide and accompanying webinar to tackle issues before, during and after an incident. Change only comes when we’re making intentional, strategic steps to create a better climate for all students. 

Dillard is a staff writer for Teaching Tolerance.

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