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Hate Crime Reduction and Response in K-12 Schools

Christine McHugh, Esq., ARM
March 2024
Hate Crime Reduction Masthead
Hate crime incidents are on the rise in K-12 schools, making a proactive, comprehensive prevention approach vital.

In early 2024, the FBI released a special report about hate crimes in schools. It found hate crime offenses at elementary and secondary schools more than doubled from 2018 to 2022. As your school takes a renewed look at prevention tactics, consider the following.

Assess Student Culture

At the K-12 level, most schools are already working hard to build healthy community relationships among students. This important work has many benefits and should continue. As institutions work to deepen their community’s sense of inclusion and belonging, focus on building a positive school culture that curbs negative behaviors, such as bullying, and helps students build relational bonds.

To assess the current state of your institution’s culture, with a lens toward preventing hate crime offenses, consider taking the following actions:

  • Establish buy-in from the top. Encourage school leadership — including boards, superintendents, heads of school, and principals — to incorporate hate prevention into their work.
  • Implement a violence prevention curriculum.
  • Join a program like No Place for Hate®, a K-12 school framework focused on student belonging.
  • Incorporate age-appropriate hate prevention lesson plans into various aspects of your curriculum.
  • Publicize your student conduct code, which should outline your expectations for student behavior and school culture, while referencing all applicable policies, including anti-bullying, anti-discrimination, and others.
  • Require all students agree to an acceptable use policy for electronics and internet at school. Remind students that conduct rules apply equally to online behavior and that your school has the right to monitor the use of its equipment and servers.
  • Train teachers and educate parents about how they can best connect with students and prevent hate. Educate teachers, parents, and adult community members about youth radicalization risk factors, warning signs, and prevention steps.

Public schools must remember to respect students’ First Amendment free speech rights in all responsive actions taken. Consult legal counsel for advice for hate incidents that may implicate free speech rights.

Improve Response Procedures

Effective awareness and early intervention are key to preventing hate crime incidents before they occur or stopping them from escalating once begun. To help respond with quick and decisive action, ensure you have:

  • Strong policies. Schools can prohibit negative behavior through policies they enact, which can address topics such as cyberbullying, harassment, and anti-bias. Work with legal counsel to ensure your policies include all protected categories, such as race, sex, disability, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, and others covered by your state or local laws.
  • Disciplinary guidelines. Consequences are critical to changing negative behavior. Create written guidelines that set forth the range of interventions and consequences, as well as guidance for when they will be applied.
  • Clear expectations for educators. Make your staff and teachers aware of what actions are expected by them. Train them on awareness, behavioral red flags, intervention options, and reporting.
  • Reporting options. Educate students, parents, and teachers on bias and hate incident reporting so all situations are processed through the correct channels and can be addressed promptly.
  • Resources for involved students. Prepare the resources and supportive measures that will be offered in various situations. Consider the needs of victims and perpetrators — making sure counseling, behavioral interventions, and protective measures are available. Tailor resources to the age of the youth involved.

Hold People Accountable

Adults in students’ lives have tremendous influence, especially those who can offer help.

Teachers and administrators should integrate your school’s message of hate prevention into daily work. Because tone setting begins at the top, it’s also crucial for your school’s administrative leaders to focus on hate prevention in all decisions and actions. Consider enacting a policy requiring leaders to engage in this work and hold them accountable for following through.


More From UE

Combating Cyberbullying and Sexting

Bullying: Lessons to Combat Cruelty

Preventing and Responding to Campus Hate and Bias Incidents

Additional Resources

Department of Justice: Preventing and Responding to Bias and Hate Incidents in K-12 Educational Settings — A Toolkit for School & Community Leaders

Not In Our Town: K-12 Action Kit

Learning for Justice: Responding to Hate and Bias at School — A Guide for Administrators, Counselors, and Teachers

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: Youth Hate Crimes & Identity-Based Bullying Initiative

U.S. Government Accountability Office Report: Students’ Experiences with Bullying, Hate Speech, Hate Crimes, and Victimization in Schools

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