Identifying and Responding to Bias Incidents

Professional Development Topic
School Climate

What is a Bias Incident?

A bias incident is conduct, speech or expression motivated, in whole or in part, by bias or prejudice. It differs from a hate crime in that no criminal activity is involved. While hate crimes, if charged and prosecuted, will be dealt with in the court system, schools must handle bias incidents through grievance procedures and educational programs. Both hate crimes and bias incidents, however, demand a unified and unflinching denouncement from school leaders.

10 Tips for Identifying Bias Incidents

You may have a bias incident on your hands if:

  1. Slurs and epithets are used. 
  2. Hate symbols -- or inflammatory symbols like nooses -- are used.
  3. The perpetrator(s) admit their conduct was motivated by prejudice or that they selected the target(s) based on their race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation or other identity factors.
  4. The target(s) believe the incident was motivated by bias.
  5. The target(s) openly engage in activities related to their race, ethnicity or other identity characteristics -- e.g., black students purposefully gathering under the "White Tree" in Jena; LGBTQ students trying to start a gay-straight alliance at school.
  6. There's been prior news coverage of similar bias incidents -- i.e., a 16-year-old living 40 miles outside of Jena was questioned by police last week after they spotted him in a truck with a noose hanging out of the back (the adult driver was charged with DUI).
  7. The acts are directed against members of groups whose presence in the community or school is opposed -- e.g., Mexican immigrant students in a community where nativist groups are active.
  8. Ongoing school or community conflicts may have initiated or contributed to the act -- e.g., in Jena, a bias incident involving nooses ultimately gave rise to off-campus conflicts and violence.
  9. Possible involvement by an organized hate group or its members -- e.g., students who are skinheads taunt Jewish peers.
  10. A pattern of incidents in which the targets and perpetrators are of a different race, religion, national origin, gender or sexual orientation -- e.g. over a period of weeks, school records show a growing number of incidents involving conflicts between Latinx and black students.

Seven Steps for Responding to Bias Incidents

  1. Focus on safety first.
  2. Conduct an investigation and get the facts.
  3. Denounce hateful acts and address fears.
  4. Involve everyone – teachers, counselors, staff, administrators, students, families and community members – in finding solutions.
  5. Support the targets.
  6. Enforce appropriate consequences for perpetrators.
  7. Work towards unity.