School leaders watchful in wake of Trump victory
Superintendents say they have a heightened sense of awareness about harassment and bullying.
Superintendents of area school districts say they have a heightened sense of awareness about harassment and bullying based on their concern that immature minds may feel empowered by President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign comments about Muslims, Hispanics and women.
In the wake of Trump’s election, reports of racist incidents emerged from the nation’s schools and universities, including students who chanted “white power” and called black classmates “cotton pickers.” Reporting by The Associated Press and local media outlets identified more than 20 such encounters last week, many involving people too young to cast a ballot.
Red Hook school district Superintendent Paul Finch said his students have behaved well but administrators have been asked to be “extra vigilant” for any sign to the contrary.
Onteora Superintendent Bruce Watson said there have been no election-related problems in his district among students but that he did investigate Facebook postings by people who claimed there were issues.
“We have had some issues where parents, through either word of mouth or sharing with somebody [something] that they posted on Facebook, [claiming certain] things” had been posted, he said. “Then we had to do some investigation, which we did, and it turned out to be not even close to what was [actually] posted.”
Watson said there was a “specific case of bullying and [the Facebook user] linked that to what they believed was now the empowerment of the bully through the Donald Trump election. Well, that’s an opinion. Because somebody feels that way doesn’t mean it’s true.”
Kingston Superintendent of Schools Paul Padalino said he has made his administrators aware that district policies for responding to bullying need to be followed.
“I’ve had nothing reported to me from my building principals that there’s been any harassment or bullying,” he said.
Padalino said there is a concern that some students might want to follow the example of Trump as a bully.
“That’s always a fear,” he said. “You have concerns that some people might take advantage of any situation — whether it’s a presidential election or anything that goes on in the outside world — to do something that’s not necessarily appropriate . ... The climate and culture in our buildings that have been created by the teachers and the administrators would kind of ferret that out pretty quickly.”
Padalino said there were some students who apparently were disappointed that Trump had won the election.
“There was some talk at the high school immediately after [the election] that there were some students who were considering organizing a walkout or something of that nature, but it didn’t materialize,” he said.
New Paltz Superintendent of Schools Maria Rice said there have been no instances of Trump-related harassment or bullying in her district but that staff members have used Trump’s demeanors as a model of the type of behavior that should be avoided among students.
“At the high school, there were a lot of questions [from students], so they used the opportunity as a teachable moment to talk about their own deportment and attitudes and feelings,” Rice said. “We’ve been working on a lot of things having to do with racial equity anyway and diversity. So, at the high school, as students asked questions or were confused ... they went forward with having those very important conversations.”
Rhinebeck Superintendent Joseph Phelan said concern about Trump’s influence increased as Election Day approached but there already had been months of preparation.
“We tried to address the issue back when school opened [in September],” he said. “In my welcome-back address to the staff on the first day, I talked ... about how the discourse in our country has been less than civil and respectful and just wanting to give the staff a heads-up that they should be aware if they weren’t already.”
Phelan said no related issue in the Rhinebeck has “risen to disciplinary action or anything like that.”