Friday, December 16, 2016

Parents call for Spokane Public Schools to address Trump-inspired bullying

Posted By on Fri, Dec 16, 2016 at 3:33 PM


A group that included parents, teachers and community leaders called for Spokane Public Schools to condemn recent bullying incidents on Wednesday, in the wake of the presidential election.
click to enlarge President-elect Donald Trump
  • President-elect Donald Trump

Nearly two-dozen people, who felt bullying has gotten worse in the school district during the election campaign and since Donald Trump was elected president, asked the school board on Wednesday to make a strong public statement denouncing recent behavior.

"No child should have to worry about being picked on for the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual identity, or immigration status," said parent Nikki Lockwood, a member of the Spokane Alliance. "Unfortunately, the tenure of our national elections has caused a spike in incidents of bullying and assault in our schools since election day."

But data provided to the Inlander by Spokane Public Schools suggests there may not be as much of a local spike in bullying as people think. Compared to the same time last year, the total number of bullying incidents recorded by the district has actually gone down. Last school year at this time, the district recorded 180 bullying incidents through all of its elementary, middle and high schools. This year, there have been 155.

Break the numbers down by grade level, however, and the data does suggest a slight increase in bullying in high school — 48 incidents this year so far, compared to 43 last year.

Regardless, parents have reported that the bullying they have heard from their kids is more politically-charged. Renae Marler, a parent of an eighth-grader at Glover Middle School, told the school board that her daughter was "targeted" by boys who told Marler's daughter that they hoped a wall was built to keep people like her out of the country.

"I wanted to come here tonight and ask the school board to do everything they can to prevent incidents like this from continuing, and to draw a very firm line and clearly communicate support to students and let the community know that this behavior is not going to be tolerated," Marler said.

Emails from October that Marler provided to the Inlander show that she confronted the teacher about witnessing the boys bullying her daughter. Marler specifically asked about one student approaching her daughter and saying, "It's because of people like you that I would vote for Trump," and another student who suggested she should be sent back to Mexico. Marler was upset that this was not immediately reported to school administration. The teacher replied that she agreed the comments and behavior were unacceptable and that no one should be made to feel unsafe by their peers.

Marler says when it was reported to school administration at Glover, they investigated and have been monitoring the situation ever since. But Marler, a licensed mental health counselor, says she hears about racial bullying every week in Spokane Public Schools.

"It got me thinking about the kids who haven't said anything to anyone, and who [unlike my daughter] don't have an administrator coming to them every day and saying, 'How are things going? Are you being bullied? Is racism a part of your experience here?'" Marler says.

During the meeting Wednesday, other parents made complaints about bullying related to the election. One person, in a pre-recorded message played through the room's speaker system, said she was the mother of a black second-grade student who was told she was going to die if Trump became president. The mother said teachers and administration took the situation seriously, but she criticized the district for being reluctant to admit an upswing in harassment.

While those in attendance were hoping for a public statement denouncing bullying incidents, board president Deana Brower said any statement would have to wait. The board cannot discuss preparing a statement outside of a public meeting, and the next meeting won't be until January, she explained.

Adam Swinyard, the district's harassment, intimidation and bullying civil rights officer, says the district has not heard of any specific bullying issues related to a presidential candidate. He notes, however, that schools may have dealt with such problems internally without seeking district guidance.

"We're concerned any time we hear a report of harassment for any reason," Swinyard says. "We take them all seriously."
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