Par­ents worry about im­pact of Trump on dis­trict, stu­dents

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Wil­liam J. Kem­ble news@free­manon­

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.”

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