ARTICLE

Hate at School: September 2018

In September, hate incidents including racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ sentiment continued as school leaders across the United States struggled to address them.

In the first full month of the new school year, news reports show that hate incidents are revving up again. As we’ve seen in the past, racist incidents were the most common. Out of 43 reports, we counted 35 centered on anti-black racism. Use of the n-word is dotted throughout. 

But, as always, black students weren’t the only targets. This is what we observed in September: 

  • Five incidents were anti-LGBTQ in nature, four were anti-Semitic and two were anti-immigrant.
  • These events were reported in 22 states, with the most—six reports—in California. (As we do each month, we recognize that the states with the highest number of reported incidents are not necessarily the ones where the most incidents took place.)
  • In at least 14 schools, administrators did not immediately respond, school leaders downplayed the incident or offenders faced few to no consequences.
  • Eleven hate incidents occurred on social media. 
  • Eleven incidents were committed by adults, including five teachers, three school board members, a principal and administrative staff. 

 

Racist Hate at School

National discourse surrounding former NFL football player Colin Kaepernick and his new Nike advertising campaign proved to be a trigger for many, including some educators. 

An elementary principal in Seal Beach, California, used a common racist dog whistle on Facebook. Referring to Kaepernick as “an anti-American thug,” the post amplified racist stereotypes of young black men as criminals. A math teacher in Covington, Louisiana, went much further, posting, “Want not to be stereotyped, tell people of that color to quit acting like animals and perpetuating the stereotype. Many are average people; the few ruin it.” 

At least three racist incidents included physical violence. 

In Monroe, Louisiana, a white student placed a noose around a black classmate’s neck. School officials suspended that student for 10 days. After the mother of the black student pushed for expulsion and pressed charges, the white student was arrested and charged with a hate crime. In Louisville, Kentucky, racist threats turned to violence when a student on a school bus choked a 10-year-old schoolmate after calling him the n-word. 

Sadly, the violence wasn’t limited to the South—or to student perpetrators. 

In Binghamton, New York, a 17-year-old black student was assaulted by staff members. After he cursed at the school’s principal, the student was surrounded by four staff members. In the incident, caught on video, one staffer put a knee in the student’s back and pushed him onto the pavement. “My glasses were knocked off into the street,” he said. “While on the ground, I kept trying to tell them that I’m calm and couldn’t breathe.” Witnesses say they heard a staff member call the student the n-word. 

 

Anti-immigrant and Anti-Semitic Hate at School

Anti-immigrant sentiments surfaced throughout the month as well, including the now-typical calls to “build the wall.” 

At a high school football game in Orange County, California, fans of a majority-white school’s football team chanted the phrase to target students from the rival, majority-Latinx, high school.

In Oceanside, California, hate came into a middle school classroom when groups of students were instructed to invent a board game. One group used the theme “border crossing”—and called their game “Deportation Time.” While one student opposed the idea, the teacher approved the project. 

Anti-Semitic vandalism was found at three schools. 

In Lansing, Michigan, a swastika was painted on the wall of a Catholic school. In Orridge, Illinois, a 14-year-old student painted a swastika and the phrase “Nazi Rules” on a school door. In Indianapolis, Indiana, swastikas were drawn on bathroom mirrors and counters. The next day, more swastika graffiti was found, along with a threat: “I’ll never go away.” 

 

Anti-LGBTQ Hate at School

Finally, last month, we found more examples of adults turning away from—or contributing to—harassment of LGBTQ students. 

A Kenosha, Wisconsin, student dropped out of school in the 11th grade after years of relentless bullying. When they learned of the problem, school officials told the student—who’d been a target since third grade—to simply avoid his harassers. He invited that behavior, they reportedly suggested, because he was “acting gay and telling other students he was gay.”

A school board member in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, expressed anger about a school showing anti-bullying videos in support of LGBTQ students. She also attempted to stop a survey of students’ attitudes about substance abuse, bullying and mental health before finally resigning.

And in San Bernardino, California, a school board member reportedly made several offensive remarks about trans students’ rights and identities before going on the record during a board meeting. Objecting to state-mandated, inclusive sex education, he alluded to Nazism to make an argument for local control. “With Germany, it wasn’t Hitler that was bad,” he said. “It was the people that follow the laws and the agenda.” 

We’ve now been tracking hate at U.S. schools for a full year. Each month, these incidents remind us that school leaders must commit themselves to equity, truth and empowerment for young people—and accountability for faculty and staff.  

The news is ripe with vitriol and promises from those in power to strip away basic human rights. This is a time for school staff to use these teachable moments to help students develop critical thinking skills, empathy for others and strategies to engage in healthy dialogue instead of adding to the hate. 

We’d like to remind educators of our Best Practices for LGBTQ Students guide. Here, school officials can learn how to develop a more inclusive climate where all students are valued. "Discussing #TakeAKnee in Class," "Discussing Sexual Harassment in the Classroom" and Speak Up at School are among the many Teaching Tolerance resources that help guide educators on this journey toward a time when all students can expect their school experiences to be equitable, safe and just. 

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.

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