Nearly 30,000 British schoolchildren last year alone had their names added to a “hate crimes” bullying list for making taunts deemed racist or “homophobic.”
More than 10,000 of those children are in elementary school, and the figures even include nursery school students down to toddler age.
Schools were required by the United Kingdom’s Labour government in 2002 to monitor and report all racist incidents to the local education authorities, or LEAs, following the U.K.’s Race Relations Act of 2000.
London’s Daily Mail reports many of the LEAs also require schools to report “homophobic” incidents and keep the offending students’ names in a register. The record can then follow the student into higher grades, or even to another school at the request of the new school’s administration.
Following last year’s publicized case of 10-year-old Peter Drury – who was added to his school’s hate register for calling his friend “gay boy” – Dr. Michele Elliott of the charity Kidscape told the Mail, “Children are being criminalized and singled out here from a very early age when they don’t know what they’re doing.”
“It must be explained that [this behavior] is wrong,” added Margaret Morrissey, founder of the campaign group Parents Outloud. “But to keep a register that will haunt them for years to come is going far too far and is against all rights.”
Drury’s mother told the paper of her son, “He doesn’t even understand about the birds and the bees, so how can he be homophobic?”
The total number of children added to the hate registry was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the civil liberties group, the Manifesto Club, which plans to release a report on their findings.
Adrian Hart, the report’s author, told the Mail, “I feel that childhood itself is under attack. It’s absolutely the case that these policies misunderstand children quite profoundly.
“Racist incident reporting generates the illusion of a problem with racism in Britain’s schools by trawling the everyday world of playground banter, teasing, childish insults – the sort of things that every teacher knows happens out there in the playground,” Hart said.
Vernon Coaker, the U.K.’s Minister of State for Schools and Learners at the time of Drury’s registry, defended the hate crimes policy.
“The majority of schools already record incidents of bullying,” Coaker told the Mail. “However, we want to make sure that all schools have measures in place to prevent and tackle bullying and show they are taking it seriously.”
The Manifesto Club reports 29,659 incidents were reported by schools to LEAs in England and Wales during the 2008-9 school year. Of those, 10,436 were at elementary schools and 41 at nursery schools.
And while 51 of the nearly 30,000 cases involved police, the majority of the “racist” or “homophobic” spats, the Mail reports, involved a student merely calling another student “gay,” “white trash” or similar epithets.