ARTICLE

Hate at School: June 2018

Last month, we tracked 25 school-based episodes of hate in 13 states.

Editor's note: 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. So we're asking for your help. If you know of an incident occurring in your school, please email hateinschools@tolerance.org.

The 25 reports of school-based hate incidents for the month of June is the lowest number we’ve seen since we began tracking last October. Given that many schools recessed for the summer early in the month, this drop is unsurprising. Nonetheless, just one report of hate on a campus is reason enough to highlight and reiterate the need for more inclusive and welcoming environments at all schools. 

This is what we saw in June: 

  • Twenty-five incidents were reported in 13 states.
  • Six incidents took place in California, the most of any state. 
  • Four incidents involved anti-Semitic rhetoric.
  • Nine were perpetrated by adults.
  • Nine targeted LGBT people. 
  • More than half of the incidents were racist in nature.

The 16 racially motivated hate incidents included threats, slurs and vandalism, and they occurred from coast to coast. 

At a New Jersey Catholic school, a black student’s white classmates tormented him, calling him racial slurs and encouraging him to kill himself. In a lawsuit filed by his parents, they claim that students would make cutting motions on their wrists when they walked by him, suggesting he commit suicide. When the boy hinted, in a social media chat, that he considered hurting himself, the students continued the bullying.  

In Los Angeles, when students were prompted to choose a historical figure for a history project, one selected former imperial wizard of the KKK Hiram Wesley Evans. The student presented to his classmates on the life of Evans while wearing a Klansman’s costume. His history teacher approved the topic and the robe.  

That’s the case of an adult who failed, in a very basic way, to prevent racist aggression last month. But adults in other situations took proactive steps to create hostile environments for students. 

A Taftville, Connecticut, student experienced continued bullying at school and online because he has a neurological disorder that affects his hands. According to a lawsuit filed by the boy’s family, his teacher knew about his disability but didn’t intervene when students bullied him for it. Instead, she publicly ridiculed his writing, a task made more difficult by his neurological disorder.

When transgender teens in nearby Hartford were successful at their school’s track and field competition, the complaints rolled in, including one from a coach who signed a petition for the state’s interscholastic conference to change rules about gender-specific sports.

And at a Brownsburg, Indiana, school, an orchestra teacher refused to address transgender students by their preferred names, violating the school’s transgender student policy. He was forced to resign but is fighting to get his job back, saying the policy infringes on his First Amendment rights. “I’m being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that’s a dangerous lifestyle,” he told a local newspaper. 

When he learned of a transgender student changing in the nurse’s office after gym class, a member of the school board in O’Fallon, Illinois, wrote in an email to another board member:

“It seems you have decided to change the God-given biological makeup of this student without input from a court, the (board of education) or God. The child is a girl. She needs to be referred to as a girl.”

This same school board member was accused of Islamophobic remarks and objecting to a school book event focusing on civil rights and activism. He allegedly stated that it was a “set up” and a “platform for social indoctrination.” Despite calls for his resignation from families, teachers and civil rights advocacy groups, he refuses to step down from his post.

Students weren’t the only targets of hate and bias last month. When Rocklin, California, middle school students learned an eighth-grade teacher was gay at the beginning of the school year, they bullied her at school and online. Some students left homophobic and anti-Semitic comments on YouTube. One student gave a presentation about gay marriage, which included anti-LGBT remarks. The teacher recently went on a mental health leave, claiming the school didn’t do enough to stop the harassment.

This incident is among at least eight in which nothing has been done to rectify the situation. It’s a reminder that school personnel—from teachers and counselors to resource officers and administrators—have the responsibility not only to acknowledge the presence of bias and hate, but to uproot it. Impressionable students must see that school leaders take an unequivocal stand to show they value everyone’s humanity. 

Dillard is a staff writer for Teaching Tolerance. To report a hate incident happening at your school or community, email hateinschools@tolerance.org.