Report tracks nearly 900 incidents of hate speech, slurs in Loudoun Co. schools: ‘It’s really behaviors, not students’

The report tallied up almost 900 incidents of hate speech or slurs in Loudoun County Public Schools. (Courtesy Loudoun County Board of Education)

Almost 900 incidents of hate speech or slurs were uttered in Loudoun County Public Schools during the 2022-2023 school year, according to a presentation to the school board.

Deputy Superintendent Ashley Ellis and Division Equity Supervisor Shahid Muhammad told the board, on June 27, that slurs targeting Black students and “general racial incidents or offensive language” were the most common incidents.

According to the school system tally, 451 incidents occurred in middle schools, 281 happened in elementary schools, and 158 were reported in high schools.

Breaking down the offensive utterances into where they occurred: In elementary schools, the slurs were in classrooms, the cafeteria, and the playground. In middle schools, the slurs were in classrooms, physical education, and on the bus. And, in high school, offensive language occurred in classroom, hallways, the auditorium and gym, and on social media.

In the first full year of gathering data, Ellis and Muhammad agreed with School Board Chair Ian Serotkin that the problem was likely underreported, since some schools claimed to have no incidents.

“I do think it would be helpful to know if some of these incidents are repeat offenses,” said board member Atoosa Reaser. Ellis agreed, and said that discussions are underway to be able to track when students repeat the misbehavior.

Why? And what comes next?

Ellis and Muhammad said the numbers don’t specifically shed light on why the hateful and offensive speech is being used by students.

“They’re saying they’re joking around with each other,” Muhammad said. “But we do know that when these slurs and words land on specific adults and students, they can have a very different impact.”

The principal and administrators at each school are best prepared to understand the context, and hand out consequences, said Muhammad and Ellis.

“The schools are doing a really good job on the investigative piece, to really determine what the next steps would be,” said Muhammad.

“For us to say, at the central office, to say that ‘any sort of racial slur or hate speech get this response,’ I think would remove that context, which is really important to have,” agreed Ellis.

Muhammad said while the use of hate speech is inappropriate and unacceptable, it’s important to keep consequences focused on eliminating the problem, rather than punishing students: “It’s really behaviors, not students.”

“This is something that we can work on, we can get better at, and we can eradicate,” he said.

Muhammad said parents are brought into the discussion with school administrators to determine the most effective way to deal with the situation.

(Discussion of the hate speech report begins at 15:30)

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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