How Loudoun Co. schools are responding to rise in hate incidents

School officials in Loudoun County, Virginia, say they’re offering training and professional learning and have hosted a series of sessions with the Anti-Defamation League in response to an increase in hate incidents.

At an equity committee meeting earlier this month, the school system said it recorded 294 incidents involving hate speech or racial slurs in the third quarter of the school year. As of May 31, the county reported 262 incidents in the fourth quarter, and 861 total incidents this school year.

It comes at a time when other D.C.-area school systems have also reported a rise in hate and bias incidents. In Montgomery County, Maryland, for example, Superintendent Monifa McKnight said the county is averaging about one hate incident per day this school year, triple the number it reported when compared to previous years and before the pandemic.

In Loudoun, staff members in the Division of Equity have visited schools to see what’s going on at each campus and what can be done to support school administrators.

Members of the Social-Emotional Learning and Unified Mental Health teams have also had conversations with students, staff and families about “what these slurs and hate speech do to students as they are learning in school,” according to Shahid Muhammad, the school system’s supervisor of equity.

“In the spirit of transparency and honesty, we really need to share that this is a very real problem,” said Lottie Spurlock, the school system’s director of equity, at the committee meeting. “The pervasive nature of it has people intrigued.”

Across elementary, middle and high schools, Muhammad said incidents are happening in classrooms. But in middle schools, they’re also occurring during PE class and on buses, and in high schools they also happen in hallways, at stadiums or gyms and on social media.

The most common type of incident involves use of the N-word, according to a school board presentation. That’s happened 280 times across the county — 80 in elementary schools, 142 in middle schools and 58 in high schools.

The discipline process, Muhammad said, “is ongoing with consequences for students when they are warranted.”

Some schools haven’t reported any incidents, something Spurlock said is alarming.

“We’re going with what is reported, and we do recognize that everything’s not reported,” she said.

More information about hate incidents in the county is available online.

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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