Coronavirus: Countering Biased Responses

Basic guidelines on how to counter biased or uninformed student responses to the novel coronavirus. 


Background on the Coronavirus

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, began in Wuhan China in early December 2019. 

On January 20, a Chinese government advisor confirmed the possibility on live television of human-to-human transmission, at which point officials finally sprang into action.  They “acknowledged the dangers of the coronavirus and ordered drastic measures to stop the spread … including the lockdown of much of the province where the epidemic emerged, penning in 56 million people,” according to the Times. 

Around this time, it also became clear that the virus had spread well beyond China. On January 30, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global health emergency – and called for spread of facts, not fear.  Officials are now looking for ways to contain the virus globally.

Meanwhile, irrational reactions to the coronavirus in the U.S. are creating challenges in some schools. Students from China - or students who are thought to be from China - are being harassed and bullied by uninformed classmates who may fear a spread the virus. This situation requires quick, firm and intelligent action by adults.  

To correct student misinformation about the disease, rely on authoritative sources of information that are regularly updated by professionals following the spread of the disease. These include: 

Also see these articles:   


See other lessons in this series:


Guidelines for Countering Bias & Overreaction 

Below are some suggestions for how educators can support students who are being targeted, while also addressing a context of fear and possible overreaction.

  1. Make a clear, strong statement that students must stop their mistreatment of targeted classmates immediately.  See these guidelines for stopping oppressive behavior.
  2. Provide protection and emotional support for the targeted student, other students, and possibly colleagues. The guidance counselor or other professional should be able to provide one-on-one support for targeted students.
  3. Ensure that all school staff members are given accurate information about the coronavirus, including links to the most authoritative information sources (such as the CDC and WHO, above).
  4. Give school staff a chance to meet and share their information about what has happened, as well as their feelings and concerns about the coronavirus and students’ reactions to it. One format for doing this is the Listening Circle.
  5. Develop a clear plan for addressing the situation that is appropriate for your school.  In addition to the other steps described here, this might include convening a group of student leaders to discuss the targeting of students and how to stop it.  Enlist students’ help in educating their fellow students and advocating for respect. 
  6. Equip and support teachers in discussing the coronavirus with students so that they can correct student misinformation and encourage positive action. Also see these guidelines for addressing difficult issues in the classroom.