By Amy Koo, CSBA Director at Large API 5/2021
As school boards across our state plan for summer learning and fall reopening, it is important to consider that for our Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students, we must not only address learning loss, but also trauma and fear due to xenophobia and racism against the AAPI community. There has been much media coverage about violence against the elderly and the mass shootings in Atlanta, but not as much has been covered in the media about AAPI youth.
In a letter to Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel on hate crime policies, the Korean American Bar Association of Northern California included the following story: “In March , we learned from a mom in Vacaville that her six-year old daughter was slapped during school. The reason? Because one of the children in her school heard there was a social media challenge to slap an Asian person. Your office may be aware that there was a social media challenge that spread amongst school-aged children to slap an Asian person in the Bay Area. This is happening in our Kindergartens, and it cannot be tolerated. The story does not end here, however. This particular mom is concerned that no one will take it seriously enough. She is concerned that it will be taken too lightly, that the school will perhaps simply treat this incident as a one-off. She is afraid that because no one will take this seriously, it will escalate into something more dangerous for her child.”
The statistics from the Stop AAPI Hate Youth Incidents Report are sobering. (https://stopaapihate.org/youth-incidents-report/). During a period of 18 weeks (3/19/20 – 7/22/20), 16% of the self-reported hate incidents involved youth. 82% of the youth reported being bullied or verbally harassed, 24% faced shunning and social isolation, and 8% were physically assaulted. Youth were most likely to be harassed at school (17%), in public parks (14%), and online (17%). Girls were 2.5 times more likely than boys to report hate incidents. Most disheartening is that adults were present in almost half of the incidents, yet only 10% of the time did bystanders intervene.
In the summer of 2020, the Stop AAPI Hate Youth Campaign interviewed 990 AAPI young adults across the nation about their experiences and feelings related to racism during the COVID-19 epidemic (https://stopaapihate.org/youth-campaign-report/). 77% of the AAPI youth expressed anger over the current anti-Asian hate in this nation, and 60% expressed disappointment over racism. AAPI youth who experienced racism firsthand were more likely to be concerned about their family and saddened than their peers that didn’t.
For those school districts that have reopened their schools to in person learning this school year, the most important question to ask right now is who has returned to in person learning? I had read an article about AAPI students being less likely to return to in person learning than other groups (https://www.capradio.org/articles/2021/04/09/as-students-return-to-classrooms-one-group-is-noticeably-still-learning-at-home-asian-americans/), so I asked my own school district, Belmont-Redwood Shores, to disaggregate our return to school data beyond school and grade level. I was shocked to find that our district mirrored the article’s data with AAPI students being least likely to return to school. To understand why, we would need to survey and/or conduct focus groups as a part of our fall reopening planning, so we can address those concerns as students return to campus full time. In particular, the AAPI community is not a monolithic group, so any surveys and focus groups would need to be broken down further by ethnic group as well as vulnerable student categories.
Many AAPI parents and staff have experienced racial bullying in the past, so every time another racist incident is shared on traditional media or social media, it brings back memories. My first experience with racial bullying was at the age of 5 in a public swimming pool, and I am angry, disappointed, and sad that the AAPI community is still facing hate four decades later. On the other hand, recent immigrants may be experiencing racism for the first time and not understand how to or be comfortable with getting help. As school board members, we need to listen and meet people where they are – acknowledge the emotions and feelings and lead with empathy in all of our communications and actions.
School boards can take actions now to ensure there is a positive school environment as schools reopen fully in the Fall:
I’d like to conclude by referencing a very timely panel organized by the California Asian Pacific American Bar Association, “Back to School: Preparing our Children & Educators” – this panel provides invaluable background as your school district determines the best path forward in supporting your AAPI students and families.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYqNyiSRCqY&t=76s
School Board Member at Belmont-Redwood Shores School District