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More than half of black students say they’ve been harassed because of race in the past year

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Hotter weather in some parts of the country causes racial tensions to bubble up, according to data released Tuesday by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Nationwide, more than half of black students say they’ve been harassed or mistreated by a student, staff member or teacher because of their race in the past year. That, along with 15 percent who say they were harassed or mistreated because of their race on an outing at school, led to 1.2 percent of black students reporting that school had worsened their lives since the turn of the century.

The racially charged climate appears most pronounced on a West Coast flight between Seattle and San Jose, with nearly 9 percent of black students reporting an incident as the reason their lives have been worse since the turn of the century. By contrast, 1.5 percent of white students and 1.7 percent of Asian students said they were treated less well in the same way, even though there were not as many incidents to choose from.

But the state with the biggest increase was Arizona, where 6.9 percent of black students said their lives were worse since the turn of the century, even though the number of incidents on school trips plummeted. In Georgia, about 7 percent of black students said their lives had worsened.

“We saw that across the nation in many different areas,” said Caroline Lee, a senior economist with the center who co-authored the report with a team of researchers. “Whether it was changes in policies or changes in attitudes.”

Overall, nearly 90 percent of students say school officials take action to protect students from harassment. In all cases, the study found, racial tensions peaked during the nation’s school busing days, when more than 3 percent of black students said their lives had gotten worse. (Compared with students overall, black students who said their lives had gotten worse were more likely to do so because of school issues, rather than their racial identity.) The racial tension quieted as the nation’s black students made up a larger share of the overall student population, and many schools started bringing in more white students, helping to reduce the number of incidents.

While student performance appeared unaffected by climate, white students reported that students of other races make fun of them for speaking Spanish or the different foods and drinks they carry, such as beer bottles and plastic bags. Students with disabilities reported less discrimination when the environment was warmer, when recess was longer and when they were more likely to encounter peers who used devices to communicate with them — and when those students had one-on-one interactions with a school representative rather than peers.

In one marker of change, white students who said they were bullied or mistreated by a friend were less likely to report those incidents to other students. But students who told other students they experienced harassment or misconduct did not have enough incidents in the past year to have a decisive effect on their behavior as a whole.

Researchers also found the first narrowing of a gender gap that had existed between the sexes in some past data. Female students reported fewer incidents of victimization, harassment or abuse than their male counterparts, though more women than men felt their situations had worsened.

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