January 2017 Issue
December 19, 2016

Leaders work to make schools, campuses safe havens

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United

In the wake of a frightening wave of post-election bullying and harassment incidents, union and state education leaders are offering resources to help educators make schools and college campuses a safe haven for students.

Ninety percent of educators who responded to an online survey by the Southern Poverty Law Center said the school climate had been negatively affected after Donald Trump won the presidential election. More than 80 percent of educators voiced concerns for marginalized students, including immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans and LGBTQ students, who are "worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families." Educators also noted a rise in verbal harassment, use of ethnic slurs and disturbing incidents involving swastikas, fake deportation notices and Confederate flags.

At a Washington state school, students made national television news after they were filmed chanting "Build a Wall" in a middle school cafeteria. Meanwhile, in New York State, vandals spray-painted "Make America White Again" and a swastika on a baseball field dugout in Wellsville, Allegany County. Similar hate graffiti incidents occurred at SUNY New Paltz, Purchase and Geneseo campuses.

NYSUT is working with NEA, AFT and the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools to combat a number of the incoming administration's policies that would dismantle public education and harm the nation's students.

"We will not stand idly by," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee.

The National Education Association launched an online pledge, where thousands of educators committed to stand up and speak up for students. NEA posted an extensive guide (http://neatoday.org/safeschools/) for educators on how to respond to hateful incidents, including practical advice such as "Never tell a student to ignore bullying, hate speech or a racist attack."

"Schools should be havens," said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. "Now more than ever we have to make sure, with every fiber of our being, that ALL students feel welcome, safe, supported and loved."

With the growing fears of deportation, the American Federation of Teachers has developed resources for educators and school support staff to support and protect immigrants with Deferred Action for Childhood (DACA) status and undocumented communities. Resources, which include informational fliers, are at http://www.aft.org/our-community/immigration.

"For our children to survive, to grow, to thrive, they have to feel safe at school and feel their parents are safe," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. "Since this election, more and more of them do not feel safe."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched hate crime investigations and urged the public to use a toll-free hotline (888-392-3644) to report any incidents of bias and discrimination. Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, in a joint letter with State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, encouraged school districts to hold gatherings for staff and students to talk about how to prevent and respond to hateful words and actions.

The state's Dignity for All Students Act calls for a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, harassment and bullying on school property, on a school bus, or at school events. The law was amended in 2013 to include cyberbullying. Elia's letter calls on school districts to review systems in place and highlights a number of DASA resources posted at www.p12.nysed.gov/dignityact/.