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Kids Face Anxiety, Harassment at School in Wake of Election

Student anxiety and incidents of harassment have increased since the 2016 presidential election, according to a survey of school personnel. (iStockphoto)
Student anxiety and incidents of harassment have increased since the 2016 presidential election, according to a survey of school personnel. (iStockphoto)
December 6, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY – This year's presidential election has had a big impact on the nation's schools, grades K-12. According to a new national survey of educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center, student anxiety and incidents of harassment are on the rise.

Maureen Costello, the report's author and the Teaching Tolerance director with the Center, said 90 percent of respondents said the election has negatively affected their schools, and many reported disturbing behavior.

"Lot of use of the 'n' word, and Confederate flags," she said. "We've heard of Nazi salutes, swastikas and 'Heil Trump.' It just seems that the kind of civil behavior that we expect of students has completely broken down."

Eight in ten educators surveyed said immigrant, Muslim and African-American students, as well as those who identify as LGBT, experience the greatest anxiety. Costello noted the small percentage of schools reporting little impact are predominantly white, or have a history of developing welcoming, inclusive communities, and programs that encourage empathy and compassion.

Costello added that children who are anxious have a harder time learning, and said parents can help address their concerns.

"Parents I think should, first of all, engage with their children and listen to them," she added. "So, it's not just 'How was school today?' But, 'Hey I've heard about this - is this happening at your school?'"

The report's recommendations for school leaders include making public statements to affirm school values and set expectations about inclusion and respect; identifying students who are being targeted or whose emotional needs seem to have changed, and doubling down on anti-bullying strategies.

"It's sometimes hard to stand up to bullying, or to stand up to nasty things being said," explained Costello. "But you don't actually have to. What you just have to do is go over to the target, engage them in conversation and show that you're their friend."

More than 10,000 teachers, counselors and other school workers responded to the post-election survey. That's up from 2,000 who took part in a similar poll in March, when teachers overwhelming named the source of both student anxiety and bad behavior as Donald Trump.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - UT