Loudoun Co. schools report spike in racial slurs, hate speech

Public schools in Loudoun County, Virginia, are experiencing a recent dramatic increase in racial slurs and hate speech.

Deputy Superintendent Ashley Ellis and Director of Equity Lottie Spurlock displayed a chart to the school board Tuesday, showing a jump in incidents reported to the Office of Equity in the second half of the 2021-2022 school year.

Click to enlarge. (Courtesy Loudoun County Public Schools)

“They have clearly spiked, particularly since February, and continue to be high,” Ellis said. “This is very unsettling data to see.”

Systemwide, and combining all grade levels, from September 2021 through January 2022, the monthly maximum number of incidents reported was five.

In February, 19 incidents were reported. In March, 40 reports were made to the Office of Equity. In April, the number was 38. So far, in May, 23 incidents have been reported, according to data provided by LCPS.

“I will remind the board that February is Black History Month, and so we were even more disturbed to see an uptick during Black History Month,” Spurlock said.

Ellis said the increase in reported slurs and hateful speech hasn’t been confined to certain schools.

“The racial slurs, and frequent reporting, happened across all of the schools, no matter the demographic or location,” Ellis said.

Ellis and Spurlock were asked by board members if they were aware of what prompted the jump.

“It’s really, really concerning that we don’t know what caused this, because it just seems it’s so sudden and clear,” said board member Ian Serotkin, of the Blue Ridge District. “So, I think that’s the piece that we’re really missing.”

Spurlock said the Office of Equity and leaders from the Department of Student Services have been meeting and briefing principals, reminding them of the resources and protocols for dealing with slurs and hate speech.

“The expectations are that they will denounce the use of the racial slurs. Part of that denouncing also takes them into an investigative mode, in which we really have to look at both sides of the incident,” Spurlock told the board.

Spurlock said “the goal is we’re really looking for a healthy resolution,” which often takes time, and perseverance.

“It’s necessary that the appropriate follow-up for the child who may be on the receiving end of the hate speech or slur,” Spurlock said. “And, we also need to coach, counsel, apply discipline as necessary, and support the student who may have said the slur, or used the hate speech.”

Spurlock said school leaders are “charging and challenging” principals to look for solutions in their individual schools. “What might be some additional ways we might talk with our families and communities, to get us out of this place where we currently are.”

Discussions about language can be difficult, Spurlock said.

“If you’ll remember, back in 2019, that was one of the things that emerged from the equity assessment — that our staff, at the time, were unsure, uneasy, nervous, about what to do, when they hear racial slurs,” Spurlock said.

Board member Harris Mahedavi, of the Ashburn District, said parents bear some burden: “How do we get the message to the children that certain actions are not appropriate.”

Spurlock agreed.

“We know that families want to be a part of conversations, even conversations sometimes that they don’t understand,” Spurlock said. “So, the only way that we can go deeper, and get to the level of turning this around is talking with people, and not at.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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