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Must-Read From Education Week: “Election’s Intolerant Tone Stokes Fears for Latino Students”

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Donald Trump’s insult-laden campaign has given permission to many to vocally express their racist and intolerant views — even in our nation’s schools.

Since the start of his candidacy, we’ve seen a flood of disturbing attacks on Latino and other students of color at the hands of pro-Trump students. One of the most common themes has been white students chanting “Trump! Trump! Trump!” during games against racially-diverse schools, in an effort to intimidate and distract them (we’ve noted many other attacks at the hands of Trump supporters on our “Trump Hate Map” here).

One-third of the teachers said they’ve noticed a rise in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment among their students,” reported the Southern Poverty Law Center in a report, “The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on our Nation’s Schools.”

“Overall, more than two-thirds of the teachers who took the survey reported that their students — mainly Muslims, immigrants and children of immigrants — were worried about what could happen to them and their families after the November election.”

Now in a must-read piece, Education Week, a national newspaper covering K–12 education, has profiled Latino students who have expressed some of these fears and faced Trump-inspired harassment in their schools. A portion of the piece is below, and is available to read in its entirety here:

It started out as a civics lesson. It quickly became a lesson in incivility.

The anti-immigration signs lining the hall at Erwin High School in this mountain city carried messages like “America Is for Americans,” “Illegals Go Home,” and “If We Don’t Take Out the Trash, Who Will?”

Posted to Facebook by a student angry about the signs, the images went viral in September 2015, sending shockwaves through Erwin High, where Hispanic enrollment has more than doubled in the past decade.

For Keyla Estrada, the signs were a jarring and frightening welcome to the United States; it marked the first week of high school in this country for the Mexican immigrant.

Educators and child advocates worry what happened at the 1,300-student high school is confirmation of what some have dubbed the “Trump effect,” a spike in anxiety and fear among nonwhite students sparked by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s rhetoric.

Trump’s statements on race, religion, and immigration—that many Mexican immigrants are drug dealers, rapists, and other types of criminals, that Muslims are a danger to America, and his vow to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border—have reverberated through the nation’s K-12 schools, with students in some communities bearing the residual brunt.

During the second presidential debate, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton scolded Trump for the rhetoric, going so far as to blame him for increased tension in American schools.

“Children listen to what is being said, … and there’s a lot of fear,” Clinton said. “In fact, teachers and parents are calling it the Trump effect. Bullying is up. A lot of people are feeling uneasy. A lot of kids are expressing their concerns.”

School leaders here in Asheville refer to the controversy at Erwin High as “The Incident,” a civics and economics class project taken completely out of context on social media. Students were asked to take a stance on immigration, based on what they’d heard from the candidates running for president. About 30 signs were created—several bearing decidedly anti-immigrant messages.

The fallout was both immediate and enduring.

Students staged a protest the next day, with many waving a Mexican flag that they claimed was confiscated by school employees. Parents showed up in droves to demand answers and accountability for perceived grievances past and present. School leaders scrambled to quell the tension, hiring more bilingual staff and providing training sessions to help educators understand how to talk about culturally sensitive issues.

“It was an assignment, but it hit the nerve that was reality to those who have experienced that frustration, and anger, and that cultural difference,” said David Thompson, the director of student services for the Buncombe County school district.

Still, more than a year later, Keyla doesn’t feel comfortable on campus.

“I feel that racism continues existing there,” the 19-year-old said through an interpreter. “The school has a lot of work to do because they don’t even realize everything that’s going on. How racism comes out amongst the students, they don’t know what some students go through every day.”

Educators at Erwin High acknowledge that uneasiness like Keyla’s remains evident at the school.

“We’d be remiss to say that it’s not there, and that it’s not underlying,” school social worker Shelly Rose said. “I don’t think that by any stretch of the imagination that it’s not a part of these kids’ lives.”