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Hate at School: December 2018

Holiday cheer and a winter break didn’t prevent hate incidents from happening at school.

Despite a school month shortened by the winter break, the number of hate incidents we tracked in December was on par with what we’ve seen in the months before. 

There were 59 reported hate incidents last month, the majority of which were racist in nature. They included Ku Klux Klan references, a noose and liberal use of the n-word.   

Here is what we found:

  • We counted 33 racist incidents and another eight that mixed racism and anti-Semitism.
  • Eleven incidents were anti-Semitic. 
  • There were three anti-LGBTQ incidents.
  • Four teachers were victims of hate incidents due to their race or gender identity. 

Recent racist and anti-immigrant incidents show how vitriolic political rhetoric has affected students and how entire communities can be affected. 

In Reading, Massachusetts, racist graffiti was found in an elementary school hallway in mid-December. It’s the 11th time the school has had to clean up graffiti, and at least the 34th instance of anti-Semitic or racist vandalism in their district since May 2017.

In the small town of Wallingford, Pennsylvania, students staged a walkout in protest after a photo of two people in Ku Klux Klan hoods—believed by school officials to be high school students—was circulated anonymously online. On Snapchat, the photo was accompanied by a letter also posted on residential doors in town.

Addressed to “non-U.S. citizens,” it is packed with hateful threats: 

“Donald [Trump] and his crew think its best if u pack ur bags tonight and don’t say goodbye to any1,” it reads. If targets didn’t comply, the writers claimed, they would “put u up for adoption,” or someone would “execute u and ur kidos.” The note is signed, “Donald Trump and his Crew, specifically Mike Pence #MAGA.”

 

Targeting Teachers

Community members weren’t the only ones to receive identity-based threats last month. Several teachers also faced hate at school. 

In Flagler County, Florida, two white high school students casually threatened the life of their black teacher during an online chat. Frustrated that she would not allow make-up work, the students discussed killing her. One claimed to know the teacher’s address. 

“[We’re] gonna get away with murder tonight,” one student wrote. The other replied, “They gonna give you a medal for killing a [n-word]. Well its not really murder.” The teens claim they were joking, but they were arrested and charged with a misdemeanor simple assault with the enhancement of a hate crime. 

The teacher has not returned to school because she doesn’t feel safe.  

In Montvale, New Jersey, a first-year high school teacher was subjected to months of anti-Semitic hate that began on his first day of school. For several weeks, students threw coins whenever his back was turned— “an obvious reference to Jewish stereotypes,” his lawsuit states.  

A swastika was carved into the blackboard of his classroom. A student told classmates that his favorite scene in Schindler’s List featured the gruesome murder of a Jewish woman—and he acted it out in class. Another wrote on his desk, “sechs millionen waren nur der anfang”: “Six million were just the beginning.” 

 

More Anti-Semitism

Throughout December, students continued to use swastikas to relay anti-Semitic messages. 

In Ojai, California, nine middle school students lay down on a field to create the hate symbol with their bodies. In a letter to parents about the incident, school administrators also noted they’d found a 12-student group chat that included racist, sexually inappropriate and threatening commentary.

And in Baraboo, Wisconsin, the school district planned assemblies to address hate and anti-Semitism after a photo of students giving Nazi salutes went viral. In response, an online video and anti-Semitic flyers posted on the exterior walls of a middle school encouraged a boycott of the assemblies.

 

Trans Students Under Attack

Last month we also saw the ways that LGBTQ students continue to be dehumanized at school. In West Point, Virginia, for example, a high school teacher refused to use a student’s correct pronouns, claiming that doing so would mean a “specific worldview is being imposed upon me.”

In Clarksburg, West Virginia, a transgender student was harassed and bullied by his school’s assistant principal. The administrator lingered in the boys’ bathroom until the student exited a stall, then challenged his right to be there. After the student explained, “I am a boy,” the assistant principal challenged him to use a urinal and “prove” it.

“He was blocking the doorway so I couldn’t get out,” the student said. “I was barricaded in the bathroom for three or four minutes.” Later, he reports, the assistant principal told him—in front of peers— “Not going to lie. You freak me out.”

We recommend that you use our guide Best Practices for Serving LGBTQ Students—even if there is no perceived problem at your school—to ensure that students not only feel safe but also seen and affirmed.

Schools Must Be Safer

In our tracking of hate incidents, we hope to gain and share a clearer picture of what’s really happening in our schools so educators can work together with students, families, administrators and policymakers to build spaces where all children are safe to learn and thrive.

Sadly, December also brought us news of why such spaces are desperately needed. 

On December 3, in Demopolis, Alabama, 9-year-old McKenzie Adams died by suicide after enduring racist bullying at her school. Family members said McKenzie had already transferred from a different elementary school after being bullied there. Then her new classmates told her things like “Kill yourself” and “Just die.” 

Hate at school is not something we can ignore. School communities—teachers, administrators, staff and families—must work together to ensure students aren’t concerned about their safety. Begin with our Social Justice Standards to create an anti-bias and equitable learning environment. Then, use Responding to Hate and Bias at School to guide you before, during and after a crisis happens. 

We know we are not seeing every incident of hate and bias in U.S. schools, as many students with marginalized identities see their bullying or harassment go unreported or unrepresented. When we receive reports of hate, we immediately reach out to the school involved and offer our resources. If you know of an incident in your school, please email hateinschools@tolerance.org, and be sure to take our survey.

Dillard is a staff writer for Teaching Tolerance.