School lead­ers watch­ful in wake of Trump vic­tory

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Wil­liam J. Kem­ble news@free­manon­line.com

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.”

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