This October marks our 13th month of tracking hate and bias incidents at schools in the United States. In that time, we’ve recorded 641 episodes in nearly every state and in Washington, D.C. The FBI’s report on hate crimes committed in 2017 was released as we were tallying October’s school events, offering an opportunity to look at longer-term trends. The FBI report shows a nearly 17 percent increase in hate crimes in 2017. While the data are flawed and inconclusive (more than 87 percent of participating agencies reported that no hate crimes occurred in their jurisdictions), the report does offer some indication of what marginalized groups are experiencing across the country. One fact worth noting: 10.5 percent of the hate crimes cited in the FBI report happened at schools and colleges.
Our monthly report parallels what we see in the FBI report. In October, we counted 69 incidents of hate and bias in U.S. schools.
Here’s what we found:
- Most of the incidents (53) were racist in nature, and we counted at least 21 reports of people using the n-word.
- Jewish Americans were the target of about 17 percent of incidents.
- There were eight anti-immigrant incidents and six that targeted LGBTQ students.
- There were six physical threats and one physical attack.
We see it every year: a few Halloween events quickly morph into a display of racist caricatures when wearing blackface or mocking cultural identity is considered entertaining.
A group of 14 Middleton, Idaho, teachers faced quick and forceful backlash online when photos of their costumes surfaced on their school district’s Facebook page. Half were dressed as a border wall which read, “Make America Great Again,” while other staffers stereotypically depicted Mexicans, wearing sombreros and ponchos and holding maracas.
An elementary teacher in Davenport, Iowa, also faced criticism when she was spotted donning blackface for a Halloween party. And in Rochester, Minnesota, a photo of two high school students dressed as Ku Klux Klan members accompanied by a student in blackface circulated on social media. In the photo, the students dressed as KKK members are holding the hand of the person in blackface while seemingly making a Nazi salute.
Like those in the federal hate crimes report, the majority of victims in schools were targeted because of their race, ethnicity or ancestry. One incident comes from a school in a district that has appeared in our March, April and July reports. The counseling office staff at an Anne Arundel County high school in Pasadena, Maryland, were notified of a message reading “Kill All Blacks,” written on a sign-in sheet for counseling appointments. Back in March, the local NAACP chapter claimed that black students suffer daily at the school, and that there was a “spirit of racism in Anne Arundel County.”
In Shorewood, Wisconsin, a white student was arrested for posting a threat about lynching black students on social media. The post came after a performance of “To Kill a Mockingbird” was cancelled due to backlash from several students and parents who didn’t approve of the use of the n-word in the play.
We also saw another discriminatory case of policing black students’ hair. In Greenwood, Texas, school officials prohibited male students from having braids and hair more than two inches in height. One football player was told he couldn’t play in a football game that week if he didn’t remove his braids by the next day.
In some incidents, school administrators dropped the ball on addressing racism and ensuring their campus has a welcoming climate. In Greendale, Wisconsin, a black student who was called the n-word was questioned by police and suspended following an argument with the student who used the slur. “It’s okay to talk about it. Don’t be quiet or walk away,” the suspended student told a TV reporter. “It is okay to use your voice and say what you need to say.”
Other black students held protests, claiming that the school isn’t doing enough to address a racist climate at the school. “We hear [the n-word] all the time every day,” one student said. “They refuse to do stuff about it. So when we react to it, we’re wrong. When we tell people not to say it, we’re wrong and they think that when we get angry, we’re the problem.”
A Tempe, Arizona, eighth-grader was reportedly called a “cotton-picking [n-word]” by another student. After a fight ensued, he too, was interrogated by police and suspended. When the student returned to school, he was forced to move out of two of his classes to accommodate the student who’d called him the racial slur. The student who used the slur was suspended for one day and was able to go on a field trip, but the victim was not. The fact that the black student now faces an assault charge in juvenile court is a prime example of how school can serve as a pipeline to prison.
Protecting All Identities
October was also full of poor treatment of LGBTQ students and missed opportunities for healthy discussions about gender and sexual identity.
In Stafford, Virginia, a transgender girl was barred from seeking shelter in the boys’ and girls’ locker rooms during a lockdown safety drill because teachers didn’t know which would be appropriate for her. She was forced to wait outside while educators argued where she belonged.
In Nixon, Texas, a teacher called a student “gay” in class and said he’s dating his girlfriend “as a cover.” The teacher explained that her assumption was based off of “the way he looks.” Since then, he has been bullied by other students.
In Fayetteville, North Carolina, a principal was forced to backtrack after initially barring a transgender student from running for homecoming queen. And in Pensacola, Florida, assumptions about a student’s identity turned violent. A teen who does not identify as gay was called homophobic slurs and brutally attacked—receiving a black eye and broken nose—all because he liked to dance.
While this report—coupled with the FBI’s latest hate crimes analysis—may be disheartening, there is hope. We know that teachers and other school staff want to create a healthy environment for their students, and it’s apparent in the positive feedback we receive when we reach out to schools featured in these reports. To tackle these problems, educators must first acknowledge that they exist, and then use plans and strategies such as those found in our guide, Responding to Hate and Bias at School. Combating hateful political discourse in the U.S. starts in our schools, and educators must be on the front lines of creating positive change.
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 occurring in your school, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.