Credit: National Cancer Institute

Montgomery County Public Schools received 237 reports of hate bias incidents over the course of the 2022-23 school year, according to data recently shared with the school board. Advocates say that figure is likely much lower than the actual rate of incidents, suggesting a nuanced variety of contributing factors.

“The bottom line is, the data doesn’t feel like it represents reality,” said Byron Johns, president of the Montgomery County NAACP Parents’ Council and co-founder of the Black and Brown Coalition.  “With 211 schools, you’re telling me there was only one or two incidents per school for the entire year? It just doesn’t pass the sniff test.”

The data was shared during the district’s first end-of-year comprehensive student well-being and safety update presented to the school board on June 27.

According to the report, 45.7% of the 237 reported hate bias incidents were race-based, 37.8% were religion-based and the remaining 16.5% were LGBTQ-related.

The numbers represent the raw number of reports submitted to MCPS regardless of whether a school investigation took place to substantiate them, said Student Welfare and Compliance Director Greg Edmundson, whose office prepared the report.

Total numbers of hate bias and bullying incidents reported within MCPS for the 2022-23 school year, as shared with the school board. Credit: Montgomery County Public Schools

Since the report’s publication, one additional incident has been included in the data, he said. Of the 238 total incidents, 84 occurred in elementary school, 96 in middle and 58 in high school, according to the office’s figures.


The report also highlighted 1,330 bullying incidents, with double the number of incidents occurring in middle school compared to elementary or high school. Of the total tally, MCPS reported 93 “serious incidents,” a subcategory specifically defined in MCPS regulations. Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster parent Christina Celenza said the middle school ratio of incidents doesn’t surprise her, pointing to students’ mental stage of development as a likely explanation.

“Middle schoolers are at an age where they’re rebelling and pushing back. Edge-walkers and boundary-pushers may not realize how harmful their actions can be,” she said. “I’m actually encouraged that that’s reflected in the data, because it makes sense.”

Many of the 237 hate bias incidents are also reflected in the tally of bullying incidents, according to Edmundson. He explained that the reporting requirements are different for bullying incidents, which require a named victim. When his office knows the hate bias victim’s name, Edmundson said they also enter the incident as a bullying report.


MCPS first rolled out its new hate bias reporting form in February. Prior to that, hate bias incidents could sometimes be reported via the bullying form—but because of the differences in reporting requirements, incidents such as school property damage often fell through the cracks, Edmundson said.

“The problem was that if there was an incident of hate like a swastika drawn on a desk, we couldn’t put that in the bullying form because we didn’t have a victim to name,” he said. “So those numbers were lower. There could have been double that, but they weren’t called in. The new hate bias form has made a big difference.”

The monthly breakdown of reported incidents reflects that trend, with the incident rate skyrocketing in February. Edmundson said the reporting form is available in all eight major languages MCPS translates. He also said the report can be filed retroactively, though he added that cases become more difficult to investigate as time passes.


This trend is also reflected in the hate bias data tracked by Montgomery County Police Department—where 154 of 244 hate bias incidents reported countywide involved students, police reports show. The highest number of incidents occurred in February, with 45 out of 53 total incidents indicated to be school-based.

Fear of retaliation, fear of authority

Advocates say one major reason why students may not want to report is due to fear of law enforcement, particularly among students of color. “There’s a deep-rooted, historically-justified distrust of police within the Black community,” Byron said. “The potential of police interaction might cause a student pause.”


Byron said Black residents often feel the burden of proof is higher for them than other residents when presenting an issue to authorities, which could discourage someone from making the effort to report an issue in the first place.

According to Edmundson, MCPS notifies law enforcement whenever a hate bias incident is reported—a fact not readily apparent in the reporting form itself. If police feel the incident may constitute a criminal act, they’ll follow up by sending a community engagement officer to the school to investigate, though Edmundson said that doesn’t happen often and is typically limited to instances of vandalism.

Even in cases when police choose not to get involved, Edmundson said nine times out of 10 a school investigation means parental notification—something that he said might cause concern, particularly for LGBTQ+ students who may not feel supported at home. Fewer than one in three transgender and nonbinary youth in America find their home to be gender-affirming, according to recent data from the Trevor Project.


“Many LGBTQ+ students aren’t out to their parents or caregivers and could be reluctant to report,” local parent advocate Mark Eckstein said. He said even if LGBTQ+ students are out to their parents and feel safe at home, they might not be out at school and could fear that reporting will cause more harm than good. Celenza echoed his concern.

“A lot of parents have told me they’ve never filled out the form because their kid doesn’t want them to, because they’re afraid it’ll make the bullying worse, which is a fair concern,” she said.

Edmundson described parental notification and police involvement as things that can create a “real delicate situation,” particularly for LGBTQ+ students.


“We want to keep the student safe and will do everything in our power not to out them, but because of circumstances with police that may not always be possible,” he said.

Desensitized to discrimination

Another reason why students may avoid reporting hate bias incidents is because they may have become desensitized to negative stereotypes and related harassment. For example, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington’s associate director Guila Franklin Siegel said antisemitic microaggressions happen so frequently that for Jewish students, hate has become “an almost seamless part” of their school experience.


“It’s not even something they would question or complain about anymore,” she said. “Jewish students just perceive it as part of the cost of going to public school.”

Regional Director Meredith Weisel from the Anti-Defamation League agreed that while she’s seen reports of antisemitism, racial slurs and anti-LGBTQ+ hate in schools across the county, data suggests many more incidents continue to go unreported. She also pointed to a recent ADL report highlighting how hate and harassment are further exacerbated online.

Some racial stereotypes may not seem inherently negative, further muddying the waters. Montgomery Blair rising senior Viveka Sinha recently launched the Asian American Mental Health Initiative (AAMHI) to raise awareness about the harmful effects of the “model minority myth,” a stereotype that depicts Asian Americans as inherently smarter and more well-behaved than their peers.


“I’ve talked to many, many people who feel like they’ve experienced stereotyping but just laugh it off, because we’re taught to not rock the boat and report incidents,” Sinha said. “People may not think a stereotype of being smart can have negative effects, but it does. Asian Americans are not very good at speaking up for themselves, and that’s a direct product of how they’re perceived by society.”

Many students from underrepresented communities are afraid of calling attention to themselves and would rather fly under the radar, according to several advocates, including Liberty’s Promise founder Bob Ponichtera. He founded the nonprofit in 2006 to connect immigrant students with opportunities and help them feel at home in their community. The group has since served close to 3,000 Montgomery County youth.

Ponichtera said students from underrepresented communities often have a higher tolerance for being the butt of negative interactions and are more likely to let microaggressions go unchallenged.


“The last thing they want to do is rock the boat,” he said. “A lot of these young people just want to put their heads down, go about their business and hopefully be left alone.”

Ponichtera and others also said that immigrant and Hispanic students may not even know how to locate a hate bias reporting form—let alone how to fill one out. Ponichtera suggested that if the school district convened a meeting with youth-focused nonprofits like Liberty’s Promise, they could help spread awareness about how to use the form.

Creating a culturally responsive system


Diego Uriburu serves as executive director of Identity, a local nonprofit focused on creating opportunities for Latino youth. Along with Byron, he’s also a co-founder of the Black and Brown Coalition. Uriburu said the coalition recently submitted a document at the request of Superintendent Monifa McKnight outlining several ways MCPS could be more culturally responsive—including the creation of a constituents’ office dedicated to listening and addressing families’ concerns.

“MCPS has a challenge of connecting with minority communities,” he said. “In the past few months, they’ve made a big effort at updating forms and simplifying them, but for some communities that’s not enough. Not everyone is going to know how to navigate these formal reporting processes. We have to become a more culturally responsive system.”

Edmundson said his office is in the process of developing a “multi-page comprehensive plan” to address bullying and hate bias across the school district. The plan will be shared with the community within the next couple months once it’s finalized, he said, adding that his office is trying to involve external stakeholder groups like the Black and Brown Coalition and JCRC for feedback.


“We’re just trying to be as cohesive as possible, not only in our response but in our support for our students—regardless of what communities they may come from,” Edmundson said.