Feds Urge Schools to Address Coronavirus-Fueled Bullying of Asian Students

March 6, 2020 Updated: March 6, 2020

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is urging teachers across the nation to address the “troubling” rise of harassment and bullying of Asian students amid the spread of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19.

“There has been an increasing number of news reports regarding stereotyping, harassment, and bullying directed at persons perceived to be of Chinese American or, more generally, Asian descent, including students,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth L. Marcus wrote in a Mar. 4 letter to educators. Marcus said the rise of such incidents is a “particular concern” of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

“Some individuals may regrettably turn toward racial or ethnic stereotypes. Worse, ethnic harassment or bullying exacerbates hatred, harms students, and is never justified,” Marcus wrote. “These incidents can create a climate of misunderstanding and fear. This hurts all of us.”

The OCR advised that schools, colleges, and universities to follow to recommendations from the Education Department and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to avoid bias when making health-related decisions. It also reminded the schools that in some circumstances, they might need to investigate and take reasonable steps to end bullying and harassment as required by the federal law.

In a guidance released this week, the CDC noted the fact that some individuals in American colleges and universities are experiencing stigma and discrimination related to COVID-19, including those with Asian, especially Chinese, ancestry, as well as some returning travelers and emergency responders who may have been exposed to the virus.

“It is important for IHE to provide accurate and timely information about COVID-19 to students, staff, and faculty to minimize the potential for stigma on college and university campuses,” the CDC guidance reads, with a link to a section of its website dedicated to dealing with the stigmatization of COVID-19.

According to the CDC, people with Asian ancestry are not at greater or lesser risk of spreading COVID-19 than other Americans, as long as they do not live in or have not recently been in an area of ongoing spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 or have not been in contact with a person who is a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.

“Please do not let fear or panic guide your actions,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a Jan. 31 telebriefing. “Please do not assume that just because someone is of Asian descent that they have this new coronavirus. There are about 4 million Chinese-Americans in this country. We recognize the uncertainty of the current situation.”