Responding to Hate and Bias at School
Section Two: When There's a Crisis
Denounce the Act
When a hate crime or bias incident has affected the school, it is important to denounce the hateful act in clear, unambiguous terms. Silence or a lack of response allows fear, confusion, misinformation and distrust to grow.
If someone spray paints swastikas on the school’s main entrance, for example, or hangs a noose outside an African-American teacher’s classroom window, it is not the time to say, “We regret if anyone took offense.” The swastikas and the noose are offensive, and school leaders need to say so.
Your denunciation of the incident should be delivered to students and staff, parents and caregivers, and the wider community. Post it on the school website, and publish it in the school newspaper or newsletter. Send it out to the media. Deliver it over the school’s PA system, closed-circuit TV or intercom.
Keep it simple. Focus on three main points:
- An unacceptable incident has occurred (be specific in your description of it, otherwise gossip and rumor will allow mistaken information to take root).
- A full investigation is under way.
- Our school stands for respect and inclusion, a place where all are welcome and appreciated.
“Someone or some group has painted swastikas, a long-standing symbol of the worst kind of hate, on the front entrance of our school. It is deplorable, and we denounce it. A full investigation is under way. We are working quickly to cover and remove this vicious symbol of oppression and genocide. Hate has no place at this school. We, as a school community, stand for respect and inclusion, a place where all are free to learn in a safe and welcoming environment.”
In crafting a response, however, some issues need to be considered.
Is this an act that appears to be perpetrated by an outsider? If so, the whole school has been attacked, and your words must reflect that, as in the example above. But what if it is an act carried out by members of the school community, something that may have or already has divided students? If so, you must approach the statement with that in mind.
“Hateful graffiti has been found in three of our school’s bathrooms. We believe the person or group responsible may be part of our own school community. The images used are deplorable, and we denounce them. An investigation is under way, and we are working quickly to remove these swastikas, vicious symbols of oppression and genocide. Hate has no place in this school. We will use this as an opportunity to remind ourselves why we are here. This is an opportunity for education, a time to remind ourselves that we, as a school community, stand for respect and inclusion. We must be a place where all are free to learn in a safe and welcoming environment. That is the work that lies before us.”
Remember that your primary aim should be to restore the school to health, not to punish perpetrators. Your focus should be on what the school stands for, that hate has no place here. Focus on the positive steps the school community will take to restore order and renew its commitment to provide a safe and welcoming environment where all students can learn. Also mention the need for healing within the school community, as well as support for any identity groups specifically targeted by the incident.
And the message needs to come from you, the top administrator, as a signal to students and others that the matter is under control and being dealt with at the highest level. This is not a time to delegate.
Issue the statement as soon as possible.
After immediate safety and investigative needs have been addressed, prepare a simple response statement denouncing the hateful act and reiterating the school’s commitment to a respectful, safe learning environment for all students.
Include voices of allies in the statement.
These allies should come from the list of influential community members that school leaders can call upon. These community leaders or organizations can present a powerful, united front. And involving them will also show that school leaders are reaching out beyond the school grounds as they manage the response.
Promise (and deliver) updates.
Make it clear that more complete information will be shared as facts and details become known.