Responding to Hate and Bias at School
Section Two: When There's a Crisis
This should not be a starting-from-scratch moment; you should have existing relationships with parents and caregivers, community organizations and civic leaders to whom you can reach out during a crisis. It is, however, a moment to expand those connections and relationships. Maybe you don’t have a strong connection to a neighborhood adjoining the school campus, for example. Now is the time to strengthen it.
Small incidents that have not drawn widespread attention may be solved through much simpler processes. (Don’t, however, neglect considering whether a small incident is part of a larger pattern of hostility at your school.) For mid-level and larger incidents, take into account the following:
There are two overarching groups to consider:
Direct Ties to the School
- Faculty and staff
- Parents and caregivers
- School district officials
- Who else?
Indirect Ties to the School
- Government entities (a powerful one is the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service)
- Human rights groups
- Nonprofits and civic groups
- Faith groups
- Mental health counselors
- Elected officials
- Who else?
Ask yourself: At what level do we need to keep them informed, and how will we accomplish that? Those with direct ties to the school likely need daily (or more frequent in the early days) updates; use existing channels of communication to accomplish this, and consider (based on the level of impact the incident has had) emergency meetings, including an all-staff meeting before the start of the following school day.
To those with indirect ties, you may reach out in other ways, asking for specific help, a meeting space, vocal support and so on. If it’s a particularly high-profile moment, it may be that you are coordinating with the mayor to join you at the initial press conference, for example. And if you don’t have a strong list of community resources, start developing it now. Are there human rights groups at the local, state or national level who might have ready resources and guidance?
A crucial component in the aftermath of a bias crisis is counseling for students, faculty and staff. Some members of the school community may need more time and help to process what has happened. Others may want to talk about fears related to acute or chronic bias issues. Consider offering facilitated sessions where students and school employees can talk about their experiences and feelings. Ask school counselors to update a list or database of current resources and referral information. Seek district and community resources to support these efforts.
Also ask: How can we seek input?
It’s vital for you to keep people informed, and it’s also important for you to set up channels for listening. People need to be heard in crisis moments, and if you don’t give them a platform for that, frustration and distrust will rise.
Set up avenues for written and verbal feedback—perhaps a special email (crisisteam@domain ) or phone line, as well as meetings where people are allowed to speak, ask questions, offer thoughts and guidance. Publicize meetings well so all who are interested might attend. Work with the PTA, which may have additional resources for engaging parents.
For high-profile incidents, a community meeting a few nights after the incident—say on the third or fourth night—often can be an effective tool.
Offer a written summary of the gathering, and make it available to those who are unable to attend, via email, the school website and local media. Reiterate how this incident has violated school values, outline steps being taken in response, and provide avenues for community involvement. (This written communication can be shared first at the staff and faculty emergency meeting, where you can solicit feedback for editing and improvement.)