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Anxiety and Harassment at School on the Rise

Reports of harassment and anxiety in young people have increased since the presidential election. (V. Carter)
Reports of harassment and anxiety in young people have increased since the presidential election. (V. Carter)
December 7, 2016

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – This year's presidential election has had a big impact on the nation's schools, grades K-through-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.

"Confederate flags, lot of use of the 'n' word, we've heard of Nazi salutes, swastikas and 'Heil Trump,'" she said. "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 said children who are anxious have a harder time learning, but parents can help address their concerns.

"Parents, I think, should, first of all, engage with their children and listen to them," she explained. "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," she added. "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 know, you're their friend."

More than 10,000 teachers, counselors and other school workers responded to the post-election survey. That's up from two-thousand 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.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MD