By Linda Childers
A fourteen year-old junior high school student was brutally attacked at his school by two classmates who called him a “transvestite” and “gay” in the cafeteria. The vicious attack, labeled a hate crime, left the young boy blind in one eye, and resulted in a $16 million lawsuit against the school, with the boy’s parents claiming school officials failed to protect their son.
Sadly, hate crimes on school campuses are becoming all too common. It’s not unusual to hear about Swastikas and nooses being found on campuses, and students being beaten and bullied. Every year, thousands of Americans are victims of hate crimes, where they are targeted because of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.
According to a 2013 report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 8.3% of all hate crimes reported took place on school campuses, with many states reporting a rise incidence in hate crimes.
Ready to take action in your school or school district? Here are examples of some of the proactive steps that schools are taking to ensure safety on campus:
Knowing Their State’s Law
Although states have enacted legislation to combat bullying, each state’s policies vary on how bullying should be addressed. School officials need to familiarize themselves with their state’s laws, implement anti-bullying and hate crime policies at their schools, and most importantly, take a student’s accusations of harassment seriously.
Teaching Tolerance offers a guide that walks school officials through relevant issues including how to respond to hate and bias at school. The guide’s three sections include tips on how to assess your school’s climate with an eye toward diffusing tension, preventing escalation and avoiding problems; how to respond to a crisis that has been triggered by a bias at your school; and how to address long-term planning for the future, including development of social emotional skills.
Making Security a Top Priority
Since many hate crime incidents take place in areas that aren’t routinely supervised by school officials, including buses, locker rooms and bathrooms, schools need to devise a security plan that addresses these areas. Strategies might include installing closed circuit cameras, using staff or parent volunteers to patrol these areas during peak times and establishing school hotlines where students can report threats or potential crimes.
Educators agree that bullying prevention and tolerance should be taught as part of the school’s health curriculum to stop bullying before it starts, rather than just punishing bullies after an incident has occurred.
To do this, schools are making it a priority to teach diversity and tolerance to students.
Every year the New York City Department of Education holds a “Respect for All” week where schools are asked to use programs and a special curriculum to teach students to respect their peers of different races, ethnicities, gender identities and sexual orientations.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program also offers schools free resources to help combat hate crimes through education. In addition, the nonprofit Not In Our Town, offers school lesson plans, activity guides, videos and more that promote tolerance.
Rethinking Zero Tolerance Policies
Some school officials have started to question whether zero tolerance policies, which mandate expulsion or suspension for violating rules, have helped at all in the fight against school violence. A report issued by the Department of Education in January 2014 found that reactions such as suspension predict a greater possibility of misbehavior. Instead the report encourages schools to create positive climates with evidence-based prevention strategies for discipline.
The information provided in these materials is intended to be general and advisory in nature. It shall not be considered legal advice. The Hartford does not warrant that the implementation of any view or recommendation contained herein will: (i) result in the elimination of any unsafe conditions at your business locations or with respect to your business operations; or (ii) will be an appropriate legal or business practice. The Hartford assumes no responsibility for the control or correction of hazards or legal compliance with respect to your business practices, and the views and recommendations contained herein shall not constitute our undertaking, on your behalf or for the benefit of others, to determine or warrant that your business premises, locations or operations are safe or healthful, or are in compliance with any law, rule or regulation. Readers seeking to resolve specific safety, legal or business issues or concerns related to the information provided in these materials should consult their safety consultant, attorney or business advisors. All information and representations herein are as of 4/20/15.