The 2019-20 San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury has released a report examining how San Mateo County schools are responding to incidents of hate occurring on school campuses. Although the report found a limited number of documented incidents of hate behaviors, it also clearly reflects the voices of students sharing that incidents of harassment and hate, “occurred with some regularity.” This report acts as a critical mirror reflecting the work that is ahead for school and community leaders. The San Mateo County Office of Education (SMCOE), in partnership with the County Board of Education, condemns hate speech or behavior in any form and remain committed to standing up, speaking out, and taking action to create a more equitable and socially just community for San Mateo County children and youth.

As part of its investigation, the Grand Jury conducted an analysis of school district policies focused on hate-motivated behavior and gathered information from interviews and surveys of both students and school leaders. The report concludes by recommending schools strengthen district policies with more reader-friendly language and clear definitions translated in multiple languages. Additionally, the report recommends that schools connect more closely with community partners such as SMCOE and the Anti-Defamation League that offer school climate, student leadership, and anti-bias activities and trainings for schools.

The San Mateo County Office of Education is well prepared to respond to the report’s recommendations. Over the past ten years, SMCOE has been developing and deepening programs that explicitly support student health, safety, and wellbeing, and that provide opportunities for student leadership around social justice issues. SMCOE launched its Respect!24/7 initiative in response to a prior Grand Jury report focused on the lack of consistency in district anti-bullying policies. In addition, the Coalition for Safe Schools and Communities, which was formed after the 2013 school shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a multi-agency collaborative providing cohesive emergency response and mental health supports to districts.

County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee sees the Grand Jury report as an additional and urgent call to action. “In light of the most recent killings of Black Americans in our country, coupled with the ongoing backlash and harassment of Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear the destructive impact of racism on the health, wellness, and future success of all our children. Through a variety of work streams, SMCOE leaders and staff are focused on strategic efforts to eradicate institutional racism in our schools and close racial equity gaps.”

Additionally, Superintendent Magee stated, “Our children are incredibly capable of learning to live and thrive in a diverse society. As the adults leading the way, we must step up to the task of creating safe and affirming schools where students are able to see themselves and their histories reflected and to connect with diverse groups of peers. We stand with district superintendents and elected school board members to engage our school communities in this critical conversation as we lead for change.”