A r c h i v e d   I n f o r m a t i o n

Protecting Students from Harassment and Hate Crime: A Guide for Schools - January 1999

Part II: Step-by-Step Guidance

Addressing Hate Crimes and Conflicts in School and in the Community

The section provides specific information to help school districts respond to and prevent hate crimes that may occur at school or involve members of the school community.

HATE OR BIAS CRIME. For purposes of this Guide, the term "hate or bias crime" is used to describe an offense against persons or property motivated by hate or bias against a victim based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex disability, or sexual orientation.60 Violence motivated by such factors seriously threatens the values of the school and the larger community and the physical safety and mental well-being of all of those affected. Examples of hate-motivated crime include threatening phone calls, defacing or destroying personal property or buildings, hate mail, bomb threats, other threats of physical harm and intimidation, physical assault, arson, vandalism, cross-burnings, and destruction of religious symbols. Other incidents of harassment, such as racial epithets or graffiti, that occur at school, are also of interest to law enforcement agencies, as well as to school officials, because of their potential for causing dangerous confrontation, disruption of order and public safety, and violent retaliation outside of school property or school hours.

SEXUAL OFFENSES. Serious incidents of sexual harassment, such as rape, stalking, and sexual molestation will also violate criminal laws and pose similar challenges to school officials. Depending on the circumstances of a particular case, a sexual offense might also meet the definition of a bias crime in some jurisdictions.

The follwoing are steps that districts should take to confront and eliminate hate crimes and other incidents o f harassment and confrontation that threaten public safety, involve multiple persons as targets or perpetrators, generate community tensions, or disrupte school order and discipline.

Identify the hate crime laws that apply in the school's jurisdiction

LAWS AGAINST BIAS CRIME AND PENALTY ENHANCEMENT STATUTES. As of October 1997, forty-one states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws against bias-motivated violence and intimidation.61Even in the absence of state laws identifying particular bias crimes, severe harassment is likely to constitute violations of other offenses contained in criminal codes, such as assault and battery, threatening behavior, theft, and destruction of property.

Congress has also enacted federal laws that provide both criminal and civil remedies to victims of bias-motivated crimes. One of these federal criminal civil rights statutes, 18 U.S.C. § 245, prohibits the intentional interference, by force or threat of force, with certain federally protected activities, including enrollment in public schools, where the interference is motivated by discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin. This law also protects individuals who are helping others obtain an equal opportunity for a public education.

Federal law also allows more severe penalties when other federal offenses are motivated by bias. Section 280003 of Public Law 103-322, 28 U.S.C. 994, provides for increased penalties for persons convicted of federal crimes when the victims were selected "because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person."

Indicators that criminal acts might be motivated by discrimination62

  • Attacks in which the victim and perpetrator are of a different race, religion, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation, especially a pattern of such attacks

  • A perception by the victim that the perpetrator was motivated by bias

  • Victim's known association with activities relating to his or her race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sex, or sexual orientation (for example, attacks on participants in Black History Month programs)

  • Prior or recent news coverage of similar bias incidents

  • Hostile acts directed against members of groups whose presence in the area is opposed, or when the group is small in number

  • Manner and the means of attack, for example, violent attacks or beatings without another apparent motive

  • Use of language and symbols of ethnic hate such as swastikas and burning crosses, racial and ethnic slurs, the color of paint, and the spelling of words

  • Ongoing neighborhood or community conflicts or problems that may have initiated or contributed to the act, for example, bias incidents that may provoke retaliation

  • Possible involvement by an organized hate group, as shown by contemporaneous circulation of printed literature or organized hate activity in the area

Consult the state attorney general and local prosecutor and police department to determine the types of bias incidents recognized as criminal offenses in the state, county and municipality in which the district is located. Also determine the definitions of other criminal offenses that may be applicable to harassing conduct. The definitions should be widely disseminated and may be included in the district's policy. For an overview of hate crime laws in the United States, see the chart of State Hate Crimes Statutory Provisions, compiled by the Anti-Defamation League, at Appendix C [pdf format].

Like bias crimes, sexual offenses should trigger close cooperation with law enforcement agencies. Definitions of these offenses should be made available to appropriate school officials.

Recognize bias-motivated crime and violence

School administrators should learn to recognize typical indicators of crimes against persons or property that appear to be motivated by bias so that they can alert law enforcement officers to the possible nature of the offense. Screening of all disciplinary incidents to identify such indicators may be warranted in some schools.

Contact law enforcement personnel, as appropriate

REFERRALS TO LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES. School officials should contact law enforcement officials when hate crimes are committed or suspected on school property or in connection with off-site school activities. School officials should also contact law enforcement officials when they become aware of information indicating that any criminal behavior is occurring or is imminent that threatens the life or safety of students or other persons, whether or not the behavior relates to school property or activities.

School officials should also make referrals when less serious incidents occur. Circumstances that should be considered in determining whether a referral is advisable include the nature and seriousness of the conduct and the risk that the conduct poses to the health, safety, or well-being of students, employees, and the public. School officials should remember that prosecutors and police may have information and techniques that may help to identify the perpetrators, to determine the motivation for the incident, and to assess the possibility that violent retaliation or escalation may occur.

Referrals can be made even if information is insufficient for a formal charge. Referrals can also be made when a pattern of incidents at school becomes apparent. Referrals can be made to child protection units, juvenile authorities, police departments, and prosecutors, as appropriate. Schools should determine whether the attorney general of their state, a state or local civil rights agency, or other non-police agencies also accept referrals of bias incidents for investigation and remediation or can provide assistance to school officials or victims.

Preserve evidence for investigation

Balance the need to preserve the physical evidence of hate crime for investigation with the duty to minimize the exposure of students to harmful messages. Investigation may identify the perpetrator and determine if a hate group may be involved. Cover or conceal graffiti or other evidence of hate crimes while contacting law enforcement authorities to reduce the chance that students will see it. Photographing all instances of hate-motivated or harassing graffiti is a good practice, and, if a criminal violation is involved, the physical evidence should be preserved until the police approve removal.

VANDALISM AND GRAFFITI. In addition to violating the school's disciplinary code or anti-harassment policies, certain kinds of graffiti may also be of interest to law enforcement agencies. Graffiti can violate state laws against vandalism, malicious destruction of property, threats and intimidation, and hate-motivated offenses. For example, law enforcement agencies recommend that evidence of graffiti be preserved for investigation when the graffiti is repetitive or persistent, is located in places of high visibility, identifies particular targets, identifies the perpetrator, contains incitements to violence, threats or intimidation, and/or targets particular groups.63

FILING CRIMINAL CHARGES. Schools should help any student who is a victim of a crime to file charges and support the student throughout and following court proceedings. A referral for law enforcement or filing of criminal charges by a student victim does not relieve the school district of its obligation to investigate, make findings, and remedy the harassment charged insofar as school-related conduct is involved. For example, if a teacher is alleged to have sexually abused a student, the school is responsible for investigating, stopping, and preventing recurrence of the harassment even if criminal charges are also filed. Also, a student who files criminal charges regarding a sexual assault occurring off-site may be retaliated against in school by harassing conduct by friends of the alleged offender. In this instance, the school would be responsible for investigating and stopping the retaliatory harassment.

Where related criminal charges are filed, the school's investigation should be coordinated with any law enforcement activity. In the rare instances in which the school may be asked to delay a full inquiry to avoid compromising a police investigation, the school should take steps to protect the safety of the victim and other persons affected and to prevent retaliation against those assisting in the investigation.

RETALIATION. Since it is common for perpetrators and their friends and associates to take retaliatory action against students who file charges, including charges of sexual assault, it is crucial that the school institute measures that are reasonably calculated to prevent retaliation against the student victim. At a minimum, schools should make sure that the harassed students and their parents know how to report any subsequent problems and should make follow-up inquiries to see if there have been any new incidents of harassment or any retaliation.

Components of a crisis intervention plan64

Designation of crisis intervention team members

  • Procedures for convening emergency meetings and consultations

  • System for gathering and disseminating information about the situation, including procedures for communicating with the media

  • Possible strategies for assessing and controlling the situation, including changes in school hours or days, expanded homerooms, classroom discussions

  • Names and phone numbers of professional mediators or experts in diffusing conflict65

  • Methods of obtaining and discreetly using additional security

  • Continuing, frequent contacts with the persons or groups targeted by the harassment to reassure them of their safety and importance to the district and inform them of the steps being taken

  • Procedures for periodic contact with other interested parties

  • Counseling for all affected persons, as appropriate

  • Initiation of long-term solutions, such as curriculum additions and changes, relationships with outside organizations, a speakers' program, town forums, and additional ways of demonstrating respect for diversity

Prepare for crisis situations

Schools should have crisis intervention plans in place for addressing incidents that may provoke widespread concern. Even nonviolent incidents that occur in public places and involve multiple parties, such as racial name-calling at athletic events, can generate intense public and media interest. Identify persons including administrators, teachers, student leaders, and other students who should be prepared to address media concerns, police liaison, rumor control, safety, and similar needs.

Coordinate the school's anti-harassment activities with the larger community

Because schools do not operate in isolation from the community, bias crimes or incidents committed outside of school can quickly affect the school climate and relationships among students. Incidents within schools can lead to retaliation or confrontations outside of school. For these reasons, schools need to cooperate with, or create, community-wide coalitions of law enforcement, social service, civic, religious,governmental, and education agencies to coordinate prevention efforts and responses to hate crimes.

School officials should establish clear lines of communication with law enforcement agencies to cooperate in preventing and addressing bias crimes. School officials should request that police departments inform the school when there is a possibility of violence or conflicts that could affect the school environment so that precautions can be taken. Both the school and the police agency can designate specific individuals to consult with each other periodically and when incidents arise. Regularly scheduled meetings between designated school and police officials are recommended. Consider the adoption of a memorandum of understanding with police departments and prosecutors.

Be aware of and follow applicable federal, state and local reporting procedures

In 1990, Congress passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act, which directed the Attorney General of the United States to publish data about crimes that "manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity."66 The data are collected from state and local law enforcement agencies on a voluntary basis. Although this law has since expired, the FBI ordered data collection to continue. As of October 1997, twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have mandated or requested the collection of such data.67 State and local reporting procedures may apply to schools. For example, as of 1995, the state of California required schools to report school crime statistics to the state Department of Education.

Components of a memorandum of understanding with law enforcement agencies68

  • Designation of liaison personnel

  • Mission statement

  • Summary of relevant state laws

  • Standards and procedures outlining when incidents should be referred for law enforcement investigation or consultation

  • Appropriate ways of preserving evidence for investigation

  • Quick responses by law enforcement agents

  • Arrest procedures

  • Availability of protective services, legal advice, and training from the prosecutor's office and police department

  • Provisions covering police conduct and appearance at school to minimize disruption to the education environment

Enforce the district's anti-harassment policies consistently and vigorously

Enforcement of the district's anti-harassment policies and procedures as described in this manual will greatly help to forestall more violent acts. Many preventable hate crimes originate in seemingly minor incidents of racial, national origin, and sexual harassment. Make sure that school security officers are thoroughly trained in the school's anti-harassment policies and procedures.

Schools should make sure that their efforts to prevent and address bias crime do not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, religion, or disability.

Evaluate the district's past responses to serious bias incidents and consider how the response could have been improved. Identify and monitor activities and locations in which trouble is likely to occur. Contact experts in the field before a crisis situation occurs. Numerous training programs and written materials are available from the sources listed in Appendix D [pdf format].

The suggestions made elsewhere in this Guide regarding the need for conflict resolution and prejudice reduction programs in school apply equally here. Curricula used to promote positive responses to diversity should include information on hate or bias crimes.

Working Together

No school official can possibly accomplish the elimination of harassment and hate crime without a strong, continuing partnership with staff, parents, students, and the community. Your school or school district, OCR's national and field offices, other components of the U.S. Department of Education, your state board of education, your state attorney general, the National Association of Attorneys General, your collective bargaining organization, and local law enforcement agencies must all support each other by pooling our knowledge and experience and sharing new ideas and solutions as we become more adept in pursuing our goal. By working and learning together, we can strive to eliminate harassment and violence from our schools and our society.

"All life is interrelated. All people are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Martin Luther King, Jr., Speech at Birmingham Jail, 1963.


[Creating a Supportive School Climate] [Table of Contents] [Notes on Parts I and II]