ARTICLE

Hate at School: April 2019

As the end of the school year approaches, reports of hate and bias in U.S. schools haven’t slowed down.

In April, we counted 89 news-reported hate incidents at schools across the United States. Like previous months, we continue to see a set of familiar themes: ill-planned simulations that morph into traumatizing lessons on racism, students posing in blackface on social media, and what seems to be a new favorite: the use of an “n-word pass,” which white students distribute and use as permission to say the slur. 

This is what else we observed in April:

  • Most of the incidents (64) were racist, while 15 were antisemitic.
  • More than one-fourth of the incidents occurred on social media or online. 
  • The use of slurs was reported in 19 incidents—the n-word was used 14 times, and there were seven blackface and four noose incidents.  
  • New York state saw the most reported incidents, at 11.  

 

Hate and Political Rhetoric Collide

Anti-immigrant sentiment and political rhetoric mixed with hate continue to rage on near the end of the school year. 

An Austin, Texas, principal was reassigned after being accused of discriminating against immigrant parents and other complaints of discrimination and bias. She reportedly removed parents who were undocumented from the school’s PTA board. When new PTA board members were announced, she reportedly included a photo of them in the school newsletter with a caption that read, “Looking forward to working with our new TEAM and making Andrews Great Again!”

At a Seminole, Florida, high school, two students dressed up as Mexicans—both wearing sombreros and one wearing a fake mustache—for the school’s “Extraterrestrial Day.” The students were disciplined after pictures of their costumes made the rounds on social media. 

And in Massillon, Ohio, a group of 10 middle school boys formed a circle around a biracial boy and another student, chanting threats and saying they were “the wall.” According to reports, the students also insisted that “this is MAGA country” and “all black people should die.”

 

Hate and Bias Everywhere

Many Americans imagine racism as a mostly Southern problem, but we know that these attitudes—and structures—are prevalent in every part of the nation. In April, about 70 percent of reported hate and bias incidents occurred outside of the South. There were 11 incidents reported in New York state alone.  

In Youngstown, New York, community members received flyers with racist propaganda, which was an effort to recruit residents into the “Aryan Revival.” The flier claims that there are more black basketball players than teachers in the local Lewiston-Porter school district or residents in the community. It warns, “If you can’t play basketball, stay out of Lewiston.” It also features Nazi symbols and a photoshopped image depicting African Americans in a cotton field and standing near basketballs. 

In Long Island, controversy arose from a high school production of the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, which included racist stereotypes about Chinese people. The play, based on a 1967 film, was performed at two high schools and featured white students portraying Chinese characters with broken English and exaggerated mannerisms. Students also reportedly used the phrase “ching chong.” About 40 community members of varying ages protested outside the high school where the play was being performed before they were told to leave the property. 

An April school board meeting in Pittsford, New York, led to a heated discussion and complaints about ongoing racism. Attendees said that a fourth-grader was called the n-word and another black student was subjected to jokes about nooses and being enslaved. They also said students have mocked a Korean child’s facial features and repeatedly told him to “go back to Mexico.” School officials and parents say they’ve dealt with racist incidents since the 2016 presidential election “with increasing frequency.” 

 

Violence

Preventing and immediately responding to hate and bias incidents is critical because such incidents could be recipes for danger. As schools grapple with concerns about gun violence on campus, it’s only reasonable that administrators take any threat of violence seriously. In Washington, D.C., a white first-grade student called a black classmate—grandchild of noted professor and activist Michael Eric Dyson—the n-word and also threatened to get a gun.

A student in Phoenix, Arizona, was overheard saying he wanted to “blow up a Muslim church,” and journalists reported that police later found several pounds of potassium nitrate that he brought to the school. 

In Leesburg, Virginia, someone made a threat against students at a high school in a Snapchat post which read, “Mood: To kill all you [n-words] in tusky”—a reference to the target of the threat, Tuscarora High School. 

And in Riverside, New Jersey, someone made a threat against black students in a middle school bathroom, which read, “May 1st I will shoot and kill every [racial slur] in RhS.” Below that, someone had written, “I hate [racial slurs].” While the threats were later deemed not credible, parents at the middle school were alarmed when administrators didn’t immediately take the threats seriously. 

These incidents remind us that, no matter how far-fetched a threat may seem, schools must be vigilant—and proactive—in ensuring the safety of all students. It’s imperative that schools have a pulse on the climate and look for patterns that could potentially lead to violence. 

 

When Adults Fail the School Community

Students aren’t the only people who disrupt a school community. As we’ve seen each month, educators and other adults have perpetrated hate and bias on campus. In April, some of them rightfully faced the consequences for their actions. 

A Huntsville, Alabama, deputy was suspended after making a homophobic social media post. He’d made the comments following the death of Nigel Shelby, a Huntsville student who completed suicide after he was bullied for being gay. 

Responding to the demand for support and protection of LGBTQ youth, the deputy said in a Facebook post, “I’m seriously offended there is such a thing such as the movement. Society cannot and should not accept this behavior.” In the same post he wrote that his “kind of LGBTQ movement” consisted of  “liberty, guns, bible, Trump [and] BBQ.” 

One openly gay student at Shelby’s high school told reporters that school administrators hadn’t adequately addressed anti-LGBTQ bullying at their school. 

“I’ve gone to administration; I’ve gone to counselors,” the high school senior said. “They blame you for the problems that you face. Sometimes they even put in there that it’s your choice, that you’re too sensitive, that if you’re going to live this lifestyle that you’ll have to grow thick skin.”

A Chesterfield, Virginia, school resource officer was fired after an investigation found that he’s associated with the white nationalist group Identity Evropa, one of the organizers of the violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. 

And in San Jose, California, a longtime music and arts teacher has been removed from the classroom and suspended as administrators investigate whether he is also connected to Identity Evropa. 

In Dallas, Texas, a teacher was placed on leave amid an investigation after he allegedly expressed neo-Nazi sentiments online and in white supremacist groups. A Pekin, Illinois, teacher, who was initially placed on leave, resigned after allegations of racist activities and making antisemitic statements online.

A physical education teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was placed on leave after black students said she asked them to research and play “slave games.” Students in the class were separated by race and assigned to research games around the world relative to their culture. But the teacher told the black students to look up games that enslaved children had played. 

Before eliminating hate and bias among students, we have to begin with teachers, staff and other adults in the community. We know many educators work tirelessly to create a school climate that is inclusive, safe and just. But we also realize that some educators may not have the support of their administrators or district. We hope these monthly reports remind you how critical this work is and motivate you to lobby administrators to intentionally take steps to make lasting change. 

Educators cannot rest until no more incidents of hate, bias or violence happen in schools. 

Dillard is a staff writer for Teaching Tolerance.