Right after the election, school climates across the country took a turn for the worse, as there was a sharp uptick in the use of derogatory language and incidents of harassment, according to a recent survey of educators conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
In Collier County, Fla., at our GLSEN Chapter meeting the week after the election, students described some of these incidents. Hispanic and Latino students were told to pack their bags and leave the country. Hate speech was commonplace. And some teachers reported that school administrators told them not to discuss the results of the election and to move forward as if it were any normal day.
In response to the rise in incidents of bias and violence like those we heard at our meeting, GLSEN partnered with a number of national education organizations, including the National Parent Teacher Association and the National School Boards Association, to announce a call to action affirming the right of all students to attend safe schools. The call to action asked education leaders to have a conversation within their school communities about the values of respect and inclusion, and post these values throughout their schools.
These leading national education organizations issued the call to action.
GLSEN Collier decided that we needed to meet with leaders in the school district as soon as possible. Days after our meeting, I met with the Assistant Superintendent, the Director of Elementary Guidance, the Director of Secondary Guidance, the Director of Psychologists and the Director of Secondary Education – people in positions to lead a conversation about the values of Collier County schools.
After sharing some of the findings from the recent SPLC survey and the stories of local students and teachers, I shared copies of the call to action. Without being defensive, the administrators said they knew of some incidents of violence and were working on solutions. It was obvious that they shared our interest in ensuring that all students are safe and respected and free from fear and violence at school.
The group made clear that they would be taking steps to move this conversation forward. And they wanted to do even more. One of the administrators said proudly that every school employee participates in a 30-minute anti-bullying workshop at the beginning of the school year. I told them that most teachers still don’t receive training on LGBTQ issues, even though most do learn about bullying and diversity, according to GLSEN research. Now, more teachers in Collier County will be trained on LGBTQ issues – a necessary step toward making our schools more inclusive, especially in the wake of the election and the violence that followed.
As the Presidential inauguration quickly approaches, it is more urgent than ever that school communities clarify that they will accept nothing less than respect and inclusion in their schools, which is critical for all students to thrive. Students who are most vulnerable to the violence plaguing U.S. schools need our support, and if those at the top won’t be there for them, we most certainly will. Will you?
Thomas Jordan is Co-Chair of GLSEN Collier County.