Over the past few years, some politicians who are bent on dragging their culture wars into our public schools and onto our campuses have fueled an increase in violence and harassment directed toward educators.
These politicians want to censor the truth, ban books, whitewash history, and keep educators from doing their jobs in order to undermine trust in our educators and public education—even by stoking violence, fear, and intimidation.
This harassment often takes the form of verbal threats, online harassment, intimidation, and sexual harassment, and it can escalate to physical violence. American Psychological Association, Violence Against Educators and School Personnel: Crisis During COVID, Policy Brief 2 (2022). Go to reference Educators have reported a recent increase in online harassment, including doxxing—the practice of publicly revealing another’s private or identifying information on the internet.
Much of this harassment has been directed toward LGBTQ+ educators and educators who promote an honest and inclusive education. See Tim Walker, The Culture War’s Impact on Public Schools, NEA Today (Feb. 17, 2023). Go to reference
You can take steps to minimize your risk, especially before any media appearances that may attract unwanted attention.
First, secure your online presence.
Create secure passwords and use multi-factor authentication to prevent online accounts from being hacked. You should also scrub private information from the internet. Google yourself and search online white pages to see if any personal information (e.g., home address, cell phone number) is publicly available.
If you find your information on a public website, follow the site’s opt-out procedures to remove information that you do not wish to share. You should also remove personal contact information from any public resume or CV.
Review the privacy settings on your social media accounts.
Confirm that only those who you wish to see your social media posts have access. Some educators choose to use an alternate name on social media sites, so that it is more difficult for students and families to view their profile.
Review Your Social Media History
If you have a public profile, review and consider deleting old posts that may be controversial. Antagonistic members of the public may find old posts and take them out of context to paint you in an unflattering light.
Consider Anonymity When Speaking to the Press
If you plan to speak with the press about an issue that may lead to harassment, you may consider speaking anonymously or under a pseudonym.
You may also consider notifying friendly administrators or school officials of events that might lead to public backlash, but only if you believe that prior notice would help them assist you in the event of harassment.
If you are already experiencing threats or harassment, take steps to protect yourself by documenting the harassment.
Take screenshots of all threatening messages or posts, including a timestamp and URL, and log other threatening communications such as phone calls. Keeping these records will preserve evidence of the harassment for use in any civil or criminal proceedings or school disciplinary action.
If you are experiencing harassment over social media, use the platform’s mechanism for reporting harassment or hate speech. You may also consider blocking or muting harassers on social media platforms.
Harassers may also attempt to dox you, i.e. reveal private information about you, including your home address or phone number, without your consent. If that happens, use the website or social media platform’s procedures to remove the information as quickly as possible.
You may want to change your passwords in case any of your personal accounts were compromised. The PEN America Online Harassment Field Manual provides additional guidance on how to protect yourself online.
In addition to these personal steps, which you can take immediately, you should reach out to your union. Your local affiliate may be able to help you engage with your employer and connect you with information and resources specific to your state or locality. Your local can help you check your The resulting legal, binding agreement that codifies the language that was agreed upon in collective bargaining. It becomes effective after union members ratify the tentative agreement. (CBA) and board policies for relevant protections. Work with your local to demand that your employer provide the required protections and to file a grievance if the employer fails to comply with the CBA.
You should also reach out to administrators or school officials. Your employer has an affirmative obligation under federal law to investigate and address certain kinds of harassment, even from third parties—but only if the employer knows about the harassment. Immediately reporting any issues ensures that the school or institution is responsible for taking steps to prevent further harassment.
Your collective bargaining agreement, employer policies, and state law may provide additional protection.
If the employer refuses to provide these protections after your request, file a grievance using procedures in the CBA.
School board or employer policies may also cover bullying and harassment, as well as workplace safety and abuse of school/campus IT resources.
Such policies can be an important tool to protect educators—for example, a school district in Maine recently filed a lawsuit against a member of the community who was harassing its teachers, arguing that the district had a duty under state law and school board policy to protect its educators from harassment. Lia Russell, Herman schools say conservative activist made it a ‘personal mission’ to bully teacher, Bangor Daily News (May 12, 2022). Go to reference
- 3 Lia Russell, Herman schools say conservative activist made it a ‘personal mission’ to bully teacher, Bangor Daily News (May 12, 2022).
If you are receiving threats, you may report them to the FBI tip line. Call 1-800-CALL-FBI or use the online form. The FBI investigates violations of federal criminal law, including transmitting a threat through the U.S. mail or interstate commerce (including most online communications).
You may also consider reporting the threats and harassment to local law enforcement. State criminal laws may ban threats, harassment, cyberstalking, hate crimes, recording without permission, threats directed toward public school or public university employees, or threats intended to influence school or government action.
Some state criminal codes also include enhanced penalties for assault against an educator or other public employee. However, if you know that the person threatening you is a student, attempt to resolve the situation through school discipline channels before invoking law enforcement.
You may also consider filing a civil lawsuit or a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Consult a lawyer about these options. It may be necessary for you to file a complaint with the government before you can bring a lawsuit and you may have to take action by a certain deadline.
The NEA Harassment and Discrimination Toolkit offers detailed information on characteristics protected by federal employment discrimination laws and advice for how educators should respond when facing discrimination or harassment.
This page is intended to provide general information. For specific advice, you should always contact your local union or attorney.