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Parents fear anti-Asian racism as schools mull reopening

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, there have been reports of anti-Asian discrimination and racism, including in schools. Now, as schools across the country weigh in on reopening in the fall, parents of Asian-American children fear they may not be a safe place. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Simon Ostrovsky reports.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, there have been increasing reports of anti-Asian discrimination, including in schools.

    Last month, the New York City Commission on Human Rights launched a two-month campaign aimed at educating the public on racism.

    But as schools weigh whether or not to open their doors in the fall, parents of Asian-American children say they fear that school might not be a safe place when it reopens.

    NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Simon Ostrovsky has our report.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    For every parent the number one priority is the safety of their child and with this pandemic every mom and dad is asking what measures are going to be put in place to keep their children safe when classes eventually resume. But parents of Asian kids have another worry – on top of everything else.

    In the weeks and months that preceded school closures and stay at home orders there was a spike of an epidemic of a different kind in classrooms around the country.

  • Reporter:

    The latest target, a young boy from the San Fernando valley.

  • Official:

    The young person was bullied in his middle school, physically attacked and accused of having the coronavirus simply because he was Asian-American.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Racially motivated harassment against Asian pupils ranging from teasing — to physical attacks. Their classmates blaming them for the spread of coronavirus — based solely on their appearance.

    Now Asian-American parents are asking how their children can safely go back to class — next fall.

  • Yuli Hsu, Parent:

    I'm not confident the DOE are going to create a safe environment for children of color, particularly Asian children at this time.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    In April the FBI warned it was concerned about the potential for hate crimes around the country against minorities perceived to be "responsible for the spread of the virus."

    America's largest school district, New York City, which carefully tracks instances of bullying, said there was an increase in the weeks leading up to the lockdown but deputy chancellor Adrienne Austin refused to divulge to NHWE the specific numbers of biased-based bullying incidents.

  • Adrienne Austin:

    We saw the trends prior to going to remote learning we were seeing a trend of biased based instances against our Asian communities.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Hai My Huynh, is a 16-year-old high school student in the Bronx, New York. She told Newshour Weekend she struggled to get administrators to react after a fellow classmate lashed out at her with a virus-related insult when she refused to let the student copy her completed homework assignment.

  • Hai My Huynh:

    I just chose not to give it to him because I worked really hard on it. And so he said, 'oh, that's why you have Corona' and then people just around me just start laughing. And I just felt really like, I don't know what to do.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    This incident might not sound terribly serious taken on its own, but for Hai My it came after weeks of overhearing chatter in the school corridors about Asians eating bats and rats and being quote "dirty."

  • Kenyatte Reid:

    So the incidents really vary depending on age level and severity. Sometimes it could be a child just repeating words that they've heard, you know, and then others may be more deliberate, which could escalate to things that may be considered a hate crime. So it has — it runs the gamut.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    In New York as a whole, the Human Rights Commission recorded 145 complaints of anti-Asian bias and harassment since February compared to just 11 for the same period last year. Not all rose to the level of a hate crime but among the 18 that did, a disturbing trend:

  • Elizabeth Ouyang:

    What stood out to us was that of the perpetrators – more than one third – are teenagers. And so that's why we really want to reach them.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    With attacks against Asians so widespread among minors, New York's Office of Hate Crime Prevention urged the city's department of education to put together a how-to guide for dealing with incidences of biased bullying before school doors swing back open.

    Here's the office's expert on education, Daria Vaisman, describing the project to an Asian-American advocacy group in a conference call in May.

  • Daria Vaisman:

    Early in the outbreak, we had first in the office started hearing stories of COVID-related bias and hate crimes, we wanted to put something together, a list of resources for educators so they could use to speak to their students to address and anticipate problems thinking about when students reenter the physical classroom.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    The guide, which is downloadable from the New York City Hall website and is available to educators everywhere, points teachers to resources like…

  • Deborah Lauter:

    What we're seeing right now is definitely not unique to New York City, although that being said, it's happening in cities in which there is a significant Asian population. So New York, San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles would be the three, probably the most prominent.

    Experts and educators say social media and comments overheard from parents help fuel narratives about who's to blame for the virus. They also say language used by the president early on in the crisis didn't help either.

    Donald Trump, March 26

    I talk about the Chinese virus, and I mean it, that's where it came from.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    So how concerned should parents be about schoolyard teasing that targets children's identities?

  • Adrienne Austin:

    This is life or death. I mean, for students who internalize bullying, who internalize discrimination, we see an increase in the number of suicides amongst kids. And on the other hand, for kids who go unaddressed, when hatred goes unaddressed and it festers, we see instances where adults take the lives of people based on discrimination.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    One brutal incident that is being addressed is the March 28 attack on a 51-year-old Asian woman on a Bronx bus in which several teenage girls accused her of spreading the virus.

  • Elizabeth Ouyang:

    And they ended up attacking her and she had to get stitches on her head.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Elizabeth Ouyang, runs a program for New York youth that aims to resolve hate crimes through out-of-court mediation instead of relying on the criminal justice system alone. She told NewsHour Weekend the perpetrators of the bus attack would be able to avoid a criminal record by participating in her ten week anti-bias educational program.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    What do you say to people who say, you know, these people are violent criminals with a hateful mindset and you're offering a slap on the wrist?

  • Elizabeth Ouyang:

    If you bring a complaint the first time, these young offenders are not likely to get much of a punishment. In fact, a slap on the wrist. The victim, who is a 51-year-old woman, is so supportive of the youth participating in this program. She wants assurance that they're not going to do this again. That they understand why it was wrong. And that's what I think our project will definitely accomplish.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Parents like Yuli Hsu, hope that whenever school doors open again her children and others will be entering a safe space.

  • Yuli Hsu:

    My first distinct experience was when I was five in our suburban Ohio neighborhood and other children throwing verbal slurs, racial slurs at me as well as rocks in my face. Yeah. So these are definitely things I would hope my children never experience.

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