Incidents of bullying, violence, discrimination and other hate-related cases have spread across schools nationally, including those in Orange County.
So it’s become increasingly important for educators to work with community groups and law enforcement to address the root causes of hate in order to better promote tolerance. That was a theme of the forum “Building A Stronger, United Community By Addressing Hate-Motivated Incidents in Schools” held Tuesday night at the Orange County Department of Education.
The event brought together law enforcement, students, local nonprofits and community members to openly address hate-motivated incidents and share strategies for supporting students in safer, more connected campuses. The forum included a panel discussion, a presentation on how students are recruited to join extremist groups, roundtable discussions, and an overview of findings from recent hate crime statistics and the California Healthy Kids Survey.
“We were hoping to get a diverse group of voices together to share feedback that we could collect and support our teachers and school districts with,” said Stacy Deeble-Reynolds, director of Student Achievement and Wellness. “We want to show educators what they can do or might like to try — if they haven’t already — to support creating those welcoming school environments on campus. And we got a lot of great feedback today, especially the student voice.”
OCDE partnered with the Orange County Human Relations Commission to host Tuesday’s forum, which included county Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares, and representatives from the Anti-defamation League OC, Interfaith Youth Alliance, Irvine Police Department, Costa Mesa Police Department and Blaze it Forward. A follow-up session for specifically educators will take place on Jan. 22.
Stephan Lambert, OCDE’s coordinator of Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Prevention, said the first forum was about communicating a countywide vision for tolerance, reinforcing the importance of community partnerships and amplifying the voices of those impacted by hate crimes and hate incidents.
“We as educators have to take a hard look at ourselves and ask, ‘Are we doing the best that we can in our policies and our practices to create environments that stimulate students to build these relationships and connections to each other?’” Lambert said. “Are we celebrating diversity or tolerating diversity?”
“We have to look at the structures,” he added. “We have to look at the ways we model these behaviors with our colleagues and in the school environment and hope that we can set that example and build up students and amplify their voices, because they’re the next generation.”
Fareed Farukhi, commissioner on the Orange County Human Relations Commission, was unsure of what to expect at the session, noting that the partnership with OCDE came together quickly. But he said he was impressed with the turnout, the participation and the dialogue, calling the forum “phenomenal.”
Most important, he believes Orange County has the resources and the collective will to stamp out hate.
“We have to take the lead, we have to show the way and put the pathways in place,” Farukhi said, “but looking at the energy tonight … I think there’s a lot of hope for change, and the young people are looking for that. I think we just have to provide the tools.”
Educators, counselors and school administrators are invited to attend a second forum that will take place from 8 to 10 a.m. on Jan. 22. Guests can register for that event at tinyurl.com/ochrc-educator-forum.