Attorney Michelle Laubin Participates in Panel Discussion at Conference to Address Responding to Hate Incidents in Schools

Patrice ADLCABE Deputy Director and General Counsel, Patrice McCarthy, spoke as part of a panel at the workshop Responding to Hate and Bias Incidents presented by CABE, Connecticut ADL, CAPSS and CAS. Also pictured, left to right, are CAPSS Executive Director Fran Rabinowitz; Attorney Michelle Laubin, Berchem Moses PC; Bridgeport Public Schools graduate Tiana Krause; and Superintendent Michael Conner, Middletown. Photo by CABE.

Reprinted with permission from the May 2018 CABE Journal
Article by Robert Rader, Executive Director, CABE

On March 21st, CABE, CAPSS, CAS and the Connecticut Anti-Defamation League (ADL) held a workshop on Responding to Hate Incidents in Schools.

ADL's Senior Associate Director, Marji Lipshez-Shapiro, started the conference off by stating that the number of anti-Semitic incidents has risen 57% in the U.S. in 2017 and that the staff of Connecticut ADL has been busier than ever before responding to anti-Semitic, racist and other bias incidents, primarily in schools.

A major goal of the workshop, Marji explained, "is for educators and Board of Education members to understand their role in making sure every student feels safe at the school." She reminded all of us that behind the statistics are real people with real, hurtful stories. She was followed by ADL's Michelle Pincince and Takina Pollock, who stated that creating a good environment for dealing with hate issues before they occur helps enormously when there is a crisis.

They also explained that hate crimes are "criminal acts against a person, group or property that was motivated by bias toward a protected class." CT protected classes include (actual, or perceived): Race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity or expression.

On the other hand, bias incidents are non-criminal, biased conduct or speech directed at an individual or group because of their actual or perceived identities. Hate crimes will likely involve law enforcement, bias incidents will not.

They then set out nine key points for districts to consider when responding to a hate or bias incident, as originally developed by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance project:

  • Put safety first-assess whether violence has or might occur. Check with the targeted group and seek to understand their perception of their own safety.
  • Denounce the act. Label the act, without stating the perpetrator's intent, since that's what the investigation is for. Keep it simple; someone speaking on behalf of the district should state:
    • An unacceptable incident has occurred (be specific about the act or the language)
    • A full investigation is under way
    • Have a message, for example, "Our school stands for respect and inclusion."
  • Investigate. Have someone with credibility do the investigation. The district and the investigator should follow the policies and protocols in the State/district. To the extent possible, the district should be transparent. Ensure that there is a method for anonymous reporting. All evidence should be reviewed.
  • Involve others-identify groups that may need to know or can be supportive. While there is no exhaustive list, when such an incident occurs, it may be beneficial to speak to ADL, GLSEN, and/or local clergy and provide opportunity for parents and the community to be heard. The investigator as well as the district needs to listen to these individuals.
  • Work with the media: denounce the incident, do not blame the victim, avoid "no comment" statements and indicate what is being done. Again, be as transparent as possible and express support for those who were targeted.
  • Provide accurate information and dispel misinformation by using the district's most effective means of communication and monitor sources of information, especially on social media. Correct misinformation; in case of a hoax, address negative impact anyway.
  • Support targeted students. Listen to them, provide counselors and make spaces for conversation. Obviously, this must be done on an age-appropriate basis.
  • Seek justice and avoid blame. Don't make excuses for biased behavior; focus more on education than punishment; and use restorative justice. Intent matters...
  • Promote healing. Provide counselors, encourage spaces for productive conversation, keep open lines of communication.

Following this interesting and helpful presentation, a panel with CABE's Patrice McCarthy, CAPSS' Executive Director Fran Rabinowitz, Middletown Superintendent, Dr. Michael Conner (who spoke about a recent incident), an alum from Fairchild Wheeler School, Bridgeport, Tiana Krause, and Berchem Moses PC, Attorney Michelle Laubin spoke about these incidents.

Ms. Rabinowitz stated that a district needs to develop a culture of helping students if the district is "going to effectively deal with these issues. There is a need to provide more social-emotional learning, which has fallen away as we emphasized academics." She reminded us that, "if kids are scared, they won't be able to achieve academically."

Michelle Laubin stated that the federal Office of Civil Rights has warned districts that when a school fails to address these incidents and there is no training for staff or other resources available for helping students, the school may be seen as "a hostile environment" for one or more groups that are targeted.

Patrice spoke on the civility resolution that CABE delegates unanimously adopted at the 2017 Delegate Assembly. It calls for "public officials at all levels of government to model civil discourse in their deliberations, allowing for the thoughtful, beneficial productive exchange of ideas and perspectives and urges school boards to provide opportunities for students to develop their skills in conflict resolution and consensus building, and for school board members to model these skills in their own conduct."

She also reminded attendees not "to let these conversations end... because they are too important for our students."

A Guide for Administrators, Counselors, and Teachers: Responding to Hate and Bias at School is available for download at https://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/2017-07/Responding%20to%20Hate%20at%20School%202017.pdf

For further resources, see https://www.adl.org/education-and-resources/resources-for-educators-parents-families