Parents worry about impact of Trump on district, students
Concerns about the potential impact of Donald Trump’s presidency on the Rhinebeck school district and its students took center stage at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.
Parent Gretchen Lytle told the board she wanted assurances that Trump supporters of any age won’t feel empowered to bully people of different ethnicities, religions or points of view.
“Before the outcome of the election, there was a huge rise in uncivil discourse in our country, of bias and bigotry, and making threats to all different groups of people,” she said. “Once the election [was] done, it seemed to open up, giving permission to people in fearful, hateful ... ways.”
Parent Ashwini Sukthankar said policies that prevent students from being harassed by bigoted speech or actions should not be taken for granted.
“We’re lucky at the moment that the policies that are in place are ones that promote civility and help students, especially undocumented students, feel safe,” she said. “But I’m not sure that’s going to last, and I’m really concerned there are undocumented students who are deeply concerned about deportation.”
Sukthankar said district officials and residents need to begin thinking about a response to federal officials if a list of undocumented students is required after the Trump administration takes over.
“We’re here because we’d like to be thinking through that process with you,” she said. “We’re deeply committed to ensuring that, if policy changes on Jan. 21, and [the federal government] asks the school board for names and addresses of students who are undocumented, that we’ll be on the front lines and that we’re not going to be passive.”
Following the meeting, Sukthankar said Trump filling his staff with advisers such as Steve Bannon, who critics say has supported white nationalists, have raised more alarm than did the rhetoric used during the campaign.
“They’re all coming and goose stepping into the administration,” Sukthankar said. “He’s the vanguard, and I don’t doubt there’ll be a lot more to follow.”
School district resident Cole Kleitsch told board members the election of Trump points to the connection between low voter turnout and the type of people that take public office.
“Turnout was 56 percent,” he said. “I dare say
... it will never be that low ever again because, if people where not paying attention Tuesday (Election Day), they sure as heck were by Wednesday.”
Rhinebeck Superintendent of Schools Joseph Phelan said he will be sending a letter to the community about the district’s approach to the concerns.
“The letter I drafted was an attempt to let parents and kids know that we’re here to support them, that we have a mission, a vision, and a set of core values ... and that the way we intend to run our schools is consistent with our values in terms of respect and integrity,” he said.
“They’re not just words, but ... the rubber is meeting the road now with some of the things we’re dealing with,” Phelan said. “So it was as much to reassure them that this is a safe place and that we intend to keep it that way, and maintain and protect any people in our organization; specifically our kids who may have an issue, that we’re there for them, and that we want this to be a safe place for them to come to every day and to learn.”