By ALICIA ROBINSON | [email protected] | The Orange County Register

January 3, 2020

After a year of news from Orange County that included high schoolers posting Nazi salutes and swastika-shaped images to social media, area educators and human relations advocates are stepping up efforts to address hate in schools.

Two forums will be held this month as part of “Building a Stronger, United Community By Addressing Hate-Motivated Incidents in Schools,” organized by the Orange County Department of Education and the Orange County Human Relations Commission. A Tuesday, Jan. 7, event is for students, their families and the community; a follow-up forum will be held Jan. 22 for teachers and school administrators.

Officials hope to let the community know what Orange County schools are doing to prevent and respond to hate incidents on campus, but also to hear from students affected by incidents so educators will better understand what to look for, how to encourage students to report incidents when they happen and how to help afterward, said Renee Ramirez, director of OC Community Services, a division of county government that tracks and addresses discrimination and hate crimes.

A report on 2018 data found hate crimes ticked up 11% and hate incidents (threatening or discriminatory acts that aren’t criminal) rose by 75% in Orange County over the previous year, and nationally, the FBI found hate crimes at K-12 schools and colleges increased 25%, according to a news release for the Orange County forums.

For the education department, the forums are part of a series of recent events aimed at understanding and supporting vulnerable student groups.

“There is a hunger among teachers and counselors for more action around” issues such as disparities in student discipline and how to address student mental health, said Stacy Deeble-Reynolds, the department’s director of student achievement and wellness.

The public forum next week will include activities to help identify why students may feel disconnected from their school environment and how campuses can welcome diversity; various speakers and representatives of groups such as the Anti-Defamation League will participate. Student feedback collected will be taken to educators at the Jan. 22 forum, where they’ll also hear from law enforcement about how extremist groups try to recruit young people online.

While today’s youth are one of the most diverse generations in history, they also spend more time online than any other age cohort, are more impressionable and are more likely to feel socially isolated, anxious or depressed, said Brian Levin, who directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino.

“There are those who are quite skilled at manipulating adolescent fears and insecurity into scapegoating and bullying,” Levin said. “Our secondary educators have to become knowledgeable not only about how to make students proficient in history and civics, but also how to critically assess everything from false data to memes on the internet.”

Deeble-Reynolds said the January events will also help officials gauge interest in doing a bigger event later this year.

“Building a Stronger, United Community By Addressing Hate-Motivated Incidents in Schools” will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 7, at the Orange County Department of Education offices, 200 Kalmus Drive, Building D, Costa Mesa.

Register to attend or get more information at