Racism in the ‘Burbs: Schools Around Philadelphia Confront Rash of Recent Incidents

Racist incidents have popped up across the Philadelphia region this month, part of what one state official said is an increase across Pennsylvania.

Students walked out of classrooms at Coatesville High School for a few hours Friday morning over racial tension.

The night before, across the Delaware River in Washington Township, New Jersey, 300 parents and staffers met for a forum on recent racist texts and a subsequent in-school brawl.

And in the northern Bucks County suburbs around Quakertown, the school community there is still grappling with an embarrassing display of hate speech at a football game earlier this month.

In each community, calls for unity among large numbers of students, parents and staffers have followed what they call outlier incidents. Still, they come amid a national climate in which hate speech is said to be on the rise.

In Pennsylvania, hate and bias incidents are increasing, according to the state Human Relations Commission.

"We have seen an increase in hate and bias incidents across the state, including in schools," commission spokeswoman Christina Reese said.

Now, local and state officials are taking concrete steps to heal communities stung by hate speech and crimes.

In Washington Township, after a fight at the district high school Wednesday was sparked by a racist group text circulated among students, officials called in the local chapter of the NAACP.

"We will be forming a coalition of student leaders and establishing effective channels of communication through which they can voice their concerns," Superintendent Joe Bollendorf said in a statement Friday. "We will be establishing a community task force, to include the NAACP leadership, local ministries, parents, students, teachers, staff and other community leaders, to continue this candid dialogue and craft concrete initiatives."

Quakertown schools Superintendent William Harner has similarly vowed to steer the district past the discord within the community over an Oct. 5 incident at a football game between Quakertown and Cheltenham high schools where some young Quakertown fans hurled racist comments at Cheltenham's side. They also threw rocks at the Cheltenham team bus.

Students like Quakertown senior Dalton Glova told NBC10 that the incident can serve as an opportunity to improve the community.

"It's my community and it makes our community look bad," Glova said. "A situation like this is very serious and there has to be a solution. We have to look deep into it. We can't just ignore it."

In reaction to racial division among school-age young people, a group called "Rise Up Doylestown" is holding a Student March for Diversity and Inclusion in the Bucks County borough 10-11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 21. Speakers from nearby schools will address the marchers and include victims of hate crime. 

Anyone who is witness or victim to a hate crime in Pennsylvania is urged to call police immediately. Organizations are also available to help communities deal with incidents in the aftermath. Reese said school-related incidents can often lead to involvement from groups like the Human Relations Commission, the Pennsylvania Center for Safe Schools, the U.S. Department of Justice, and others. In many instances, a SPIRIT (Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together) program is initiated, Reese said.

It is a DOJ program that has been successful in helping student and educators embrace change in their schools and address issues together, she said.

Click here for more information about the SPIRIT program.

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