“Kids were starting to get a lot more pushy,” Thompson said. “They did nothing to stop it then.”
In June , a review commissioned by the school system confirmed what Thompson and others had believed all along: Students of color had to operate within a “hostile learning environment.”
Last week, Loudoun School Board members condemned white supremacy and passed a resolution denouncing hate. They also vowed to eliminate “opportunity gaps” for students from marginalized communities. In its declaration, the School Board also promised to work to address implicit biases in schools and to build a more diverse workforce.
Rob Doolittle, a spokesman for Loudoun County Public Schools, said the state changed reporting requirements between the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school year that render it impossible to accurately compare the levels of bullying between those years.
However, he added that “one instance of bullying or harassment is one too many.”
“Loudoun County Public Schools believes all students have the right to attend school where their individual differences are respected and where they are free of fear of harassment and bullying,” Doolittle said.
The Equity Collaborative, a national consulting firm, conducted an assessment across the district in the spring. A report, based on interviews with several hundred students, teachers and staff at two dozen schools, found that students are forced into a “hostile learning environment” because of the perception that there are no consequences for hateful actions.
The report documented many instances of racism, including a U.S.-born student who was told to go back to their country by a teacher and another incident in which a student said a teacher referred to all Arabs as terrorists.
Four primary recommendations were issued as part of the review, including the suggestion that Superintendent Eric Williams issue a message to the community condemning white supremacy, hate speech and racially motivated violence. Williams released that statement in August.
The report also called for the school system to review or establish a policy for responding to racially motivated actions and state “that the N-word is not tolerated,” as well as establish training opportunities for teachers and revamp its plans to improve diversity among the staff.
Thompson said the Loudoun NAACP spent years calling attention to racist experiences faced by students of color in the approximately 84,000-student school system, including incidents where schoolchildren were attacked online with slurs from their classmates.
He said the recent work in the school system has “confirmed a lot of what we’ve been talking about for the last 20 years.” The school system, he said, treated racial incidents in the past as isolated episodes, but the report “blew it all out the water.”
Loudoun’s focus on equity is unfolding during a period of dramatic demographic change and growth in the county; white students went from making up 63 percent of students in the 2008-2009 school year to 46 percent of enrollment this year.
Asian students are 23 percent of Loudoun’s school population, Hispanic students 18 percent, black students 7 percent and 6 percent of students identify as multiracial, school system data show.
Brenda Sheridan, a Loudoun School Board member who co-chairs the Committee on Equity that drafted the resolution, acknowledged that some community members are frustrated the school system had not addressed the problems sooner, but she believes there is newfound momentum in the school system to grow.
“Change takes practice,” she said. “We have to teach it and we have to practice it and we have to expand people’s knowledge base.”