Schools See Major Uptick In Racial Harassment, New Data Suggests
It’s “distressingly unsurprising,” one former Education Department official says.

The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights division saw a significant increase in the number of complaints it received regarding racial harassment in schools, including post-secondary institutions, in 2017, according to data the department provided to HuffPost. The increase represents the biggest rise in this category since at least 2009, the earliest consecutive year for which we could find publicly reported numbers in this category.

The number of racial harassment discrimination complaints the department’s civil rights division receives has ebbed and flowed over the last nine years. It did not receive more than 600 complaints until fiscal year 2017, when the number climbed to 675, a nearly 25 percent increase from the previous year. Previously, the number had bounced between a low of 362 and a high of 577.

The Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, is charged with addressing complaints under Title VI, the federal law that protects students from discrimination based on race, color and national origin.

The Department of Education provided the numbers in response to an inquiry from HuffPost. A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment when asked about potential reasons for this uptick, or to a request about numbers from earlier than 2009, by press time.

Catherine Lhamon, who ran OCR during the Obama administration, said she could not speculate on the reasons for this increase, but pointed to outside data showing a surge in hate crimes nationally.

“Our schools are places that encapsulate and reflect the national climate as well,” said Lhamon, who is now chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “It is distressingly unsurprising that there might be an uptick in racial harassment complaints coming to OCR.”

Zoe Savitsky, deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, pointed to the numbers as evidence that the Trump administration is creating a toxic national environment that is in turn affecting schools. In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, the Southern Poverty Law Center started surveying teachers about how the election had influenced their school’s climate. Many teachers reported seeing an increase in hateful language and attitudes toward marginalized student groups.

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