American schools are working to stop the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus, but they’re also struggling to stop the spread of something else — racism.
On March 16, the Department of Education published detailed guidance for the protection of student civil rights amid a pandemic that has shuttered schools and forced instruction online — including specific direction on how to protect student health and safety without discriminating against students.
“School officials may not rely on assumptions or stereotypes related to race, color, or national origin in identifying students who may have recently traveled to a country with widespread transmission of coronavirus or who may otherwise be at risk of coronavirus infection,” the guidance said.
And earlier in March, the department wrote a letter to schools noting an “increasing number of news reports regarding stereotyping, harassment, and bullying directed at persons perceived to be of Chinese American or, more generally, Asian descent, including students.”
At Bolsa Grande High School in California, school officials condemned an online video of two students harassing Vietnamese classmates and shouting “coronavirus.” In Los Angeles County, authorities reported a 16-year-old student was assaulted over coronavirus fears.
Members of Congress have spoken out about racism prompted by misinformation related to the COVID-19 outbreak. In a letter, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus noted “a surge of discriminatory rhetoric and violent attack against Asian Americans across the country” and asked fellow members to share only factual, verified information about the virus to stymie racist theories related to how it spreads.
President Donald Trump’s use of the phrase “Chinese virus” has also come under fire. California Democratic Rep. Mark Takano, urging against the use of that and similar phrases, likes “Wuhan virus.”
“For me it’s not about China, it’s about Asian Americans who need to be respected,” Takano says. “This virus is going to affect Democrats, Republicans, independents, Chinese, Europeans all the same.”