The U.S. Education Department recently handed out a “bomb threat checklist” to dozens of employees that included adjectives to help identify someone making a threat by phone, including one for “ebonics,” or African American Vernacular English. It was the only indicator on the list addressing race or ethnicity.
The checklist, which has “Department of Education” printed at the top, was given out Nov. 1 to staff members attending a security training session in the basement of the Education Department headquarters in Washington, according to participants who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Education Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill said that she had not seen the checklist and that it was a different list from the one used by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s office. That list, which does not say “Department of Education” at the top, does not include “ebonics.”
Hill said the security office at the department had used the checklist with the reference to ebonics. She said it will be withdrawn and replaced with the one used by DeVos’s office. She said that someone who works in the security office brought it from another agency and thought it was acceptable to use. No further details were given about the source.
The checklist handed out to the staff members is different from ones published by other government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, which do not include references to race. That checklist is used by other government agencies, schools and other organizations to help them respond to a bomb threat calmly with the help of first responders.
Under the “threat language” section of the checklist given to staff members, the indicators include “educated,” “well-spoken,” “foul,” “irrational,” “ebonics,” “incoherent,” “taped,” “read by threat” and “nervous.” It instructs the person filling out the chart to check all that apply. There is also a typo on the checklist: the word “describe” is spelled “discribe.”
Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington bureau of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, said he found the checklist “deeply disturbing” because the only racial indicator is about blacks. There is box to be checked for a Boston or New York accent, for example, he said, or for people who sound as though Spanish is their first language.
“The indication of a racial bias is more indicative by what isn’t there than what is on it,” he said.
A Homeland Security checklist published on the department’s website (see below) has a different set of indicators under the “threat language” category: “incoherent,” “message read,” “taped,” “irrational,” “profane” and “well spoken.” This form is used by some other government agencies as well as schools.
Here’s the checklist that dozens of Education Department staff members were given at the security training session:
This is the bomb threat checklist that Hill said was used in her office as well as in the office of DeVos:
This checklist was published by the Department of Homeland Security:
It does not, as does the Department of Education’s, have an option for “ebonics,” nor does this bomb threat check list published by the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives:
Or this one, used by the University of California at San Francisco: