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Issue/Question:
One of the few Latino families in our school report that their third grader is afraid to come to school because these fifth grade boys call him a "spic" and a "stupid Puerto Rican" and threaten to beat him up. Now the teachers and the school administration are divided about what to do about it. Some of us want to call the police and others see it as a school problem and do not want to involve outside authorities. What's the right thing to do?

Suggested Response:

The decision to involve the police is not always as clear as many of us would like. If the threats were coming from second graders, or kindergarten children you might want to handle it solely by working with the parents and children involved. However, fifth grade boys are capable of inflicting serious harm, especially on a younger, more vulnerable child.

In this case, involving the police would send an important message to the family of the boy being threatened. It conveys to them that your school takes safety and bias-motivated threats seriously. It also sends the same message to the children who are doing the harassing - telling them not just that your school doesn't tolerate this kind of behavior, but that it is actually against the law. For many fifth graders, and their parents, a visit from the police may be intimidating in a way the school authorities are not, and may be enough to stop the harassment.

Keep in mind while resolving this conflict that calling or not calling the police is only part of the picture. The target of this behavior needs support. He needs to know that he is a valued member of the school community. In addition, time should be spent examining the overall school environment to determine what may or may not be in place that is reinforcing such behavior.
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