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WaPo: Trump’s words, bullied kids, scarred schools

WaPo:  Trump’s words, bullied kids, scarred schools
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Source:  Washington Post 

By  and 

Two kindergartners in Utah told a Latino boy that President Trump would send him back to Mexico, and teenagers in Maine sneered “Ban Muslims” at a classmate wearing a hijab. In Tennessee, a group of middle-schoolers linked arms, imitating the president’s proposed border wall as they refused to let nonwhite students pass. In Ohio, another group of middle-schoolers surrounded a mixed-race sixth-grader and, as she confided to her mother, told the girl: “This is Trump country.”

Since Trump’s rise to the nation’s highest office, his inflammatory language — often condemned as racist and xenophobic — has seeped into schools across America. Many bullies now target other children differently than they used to, with kids as young as 6 mimicking the president’s insults and the cruel way he delivers them.

Trump’s words, those chanted by his followers at campaign rallies and even his last name have been wielded by students and school staff members to harass children more than 300 times since the start of 2016, a Washington Post review of 28,000 news stories found. At least three-quarters of the attacks were directed at kids who are Hispanic, black or Muslim, according to the analysis. Students have also been victimized because they support the president — more than 45 times during the same period.

Although many hateful episodes garnered coverage just after the election, The Post found that Trump-connected persecution of children has never stopped. Even without the huge total from November 2016, an average of nearly two incidents per school week have been publicly reported over the past four years. Still, because so much of the bullying never appears in the news, The Post’s figure represents a small fraction of the actual total. It also doesn’t include the thousands of slurs, swastikas and racial epithets that aren’t directly linked to Trump but that the president’s detractors argue his behavior has exacerbated.

“It’s gotten way worse since Trump got elected,” said Ashanty Bonilla, 17, a Mexican American high school junior in Idaho who faced so much ridicule from classmates last year that she transferred. “They hear it. They think it’s okay. The president says it. . . . Why can’t they?”

Asked about Trump’s effect on student behavior, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham noted that first lady Melania Trump — whose “Be Best” campaign denounces online harassment — had encouraged kids worldwide to treat one another with respect.

First lady Melania Trump speaks at the White House in May 2018 about her “Be Best” campaign, which denounces online harassment. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

“She knows that bullying is a universal problem for children that will be difficult to stop in its entirety,” Grisham wrote in an email, “but Mrs. Trump will continue her work on behalf of the next generation despite the media’s appetite to blame her for actions and situations outside of her control.”

Most schools don’t track the Trump bullying phenomenon, and researchers didn’t ask about it in a federal survey of 6,100 students in 2017, the most recent year with available data. One in five of those children, ages 12 to 18, reported being bullied at school, a rate unchanged since the previous count in 2015.

However, a 2016 online survey of over 10,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that more than 2,500 “described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric,” although the overwhelming majority never made the news. In 476 cases, offenders used the phrase “build the wall.” In 672, they mentioned deportation.

(Hannah Sparling/The Enquirer/USA TODAY Network)

January 2017

Cincinnati, Ohio

Withrow University High School

Someone sprayed hateful graffiti across campus, declaring “F- – – N-words and Faggots” and “Trump.” The graffiti also threatened gay and black students and featured multiple swastikas — the latter often painted alongside the president’s last name.

Source: Cincinnati Enquirer 

(Courtesy of Bonilla family)

April 9, 2019

Lewiston, Idaho

Lewiston High School

After Ashanty Bonilla, 17, tweeted criticism of Trump supporters who visit Mexico, a classmate posted her message on Snapchat alongside a racist response and a Confederate flag. The next day, classmates heckled the teen with racist jeers, tied a rope to the back of her car and wrote “Republican Trump 2020” on the back window.

(Fort Worth Independent School District)

May 17, 2019

Fort Worth, Texas

Amon Carter-Riverside High School

Georgia Clark, an English teacher in Fort Worth, tweeted at President Trump asking him to remove undocumented immigrants from her high school. She mistakenly believed her messages were private.

Source: The Washington Post 

For Cielo Castor, who is Mexican American, the experience at Kamiakin High in Kennewick, Wash., was searing. The day after the election, a friend told Cielo, then a sophomore, that he was glad Trump won because Mexicans were stealing American jobs. A year later, when the president was mentioned during her American literature course, she said she didn’t support him and a classmate who did refused to sit next to her.

“‘I don’t want to be around her,’” Cielo recalled him announcing as he opted for the floor instead.

Then, on “America night” at a football game in October 2018 during Cielo’s senior year, schoolmates in the student section unfurled a “Make America Great Again” flag. Led by the boy who wouldn’t sit beside Cielo, the teenagers began to chant: “Build — the — wall!”

Horrified, she confronted the instigator.

“You can’t be doing that,” Cielo told him.

He ignored her, she recalled, and the teenagers around him booed her. A cheerleading coach was the lone adult who tried to make them stop.

“I felt like I was personally attacked. And it wasn’t like they were attacking my character. They were attacking my ethnicity, and it’s not like I can do anything about that.”

— Cielo Castor

(Rajah Bose For The Washington Post)

After a photo of the teenagers with the flag appeared on social media, news about what had happened infuriated many of the school’s Latinos, who made up about a quarter of the 1,700-member student body. Cielo, then 17, hoped school officials would address the tension. When they didn’t, she attended that Wednesday’s school board meeting.

“I don’t feel cared for,” she told the members, crying.

A day later, the superintendent consoled her and the principal asked how he could help, recalled Cielo, now a college freshman. Afterward, school staff members addressed every class, but Hispanic students were still so angry that they organized a walkout.

Some students heckled the protesters, waving MAGA caps at them. At the end of the day, Cielo left the school with a white friend who’d attended the protest; they passed an underclassman she didn’t know.

“Look,” the boy said, “it’s one of those f—ing Mexicans.”

She heard that school administrators — who declined to be interviewed for this article — suspended the teenager who had led the chant, but she doubts he has changed.

Reached on Instagram, the teenager refused to talk about what happened, writing in a message that he didn’t want to discuss the incident “because it is in the past and everyone has moved on from it.” At the end, he added a sign-off: “Trump 2020.”

Watch Trump’s attacks on Latinos, Muslims and other minorities
 1:50

President Trump’s rhetoric has been condemned as racist and xenophobic since his candidacy began in 2015. Here is what he’s said. (The Washington Post)

Just as the president has repeatedly targeted Latinos, so, too, have school bullies. Of the incidents The Post tallied, half targeted Hispanics.

In one of the most extreme cases of abuse, a 13-year-old in New Jersey told a Mexican American schoolmate, who was 12, that “all Mexicans should go back behind the wall.” A day later, on June 19, 2019, the 13-year-old assaulted the boy and his mother, Beronica Ruiz, punching him and beating her unconscious, said the family’s attorney, Daniel Santiago. He wonders to what extent Trump’s repeated vilification of certain minorities played a role.


More than 300 Trump-inspired harassment incidents reported by news outlets from 2016-2019

Anti-Hispanic: 45%

Anti-black: 23%

Anti-Semitic: 7%

Anti-Muslim: 8%

Anti-LGBT: 4%

Anti-Trump: 14%

Note: Some incidents targeted multiple groups and,

in other cases, the ethnicity/gender/religion of the

intended target was unclear. Figures may not

precisely add up because of rounding.

Source: Washington Post analysis of media reports

“When the president goes on TV and is saying things like Mexicans are rapists, Mexicans are criminals — these children don’t have the cognitive ability to say, ‘He’s just playing the role of a politician,’ ” Santiago argued. “The language that he’s using matters.”

Ruiz’s son, who is now seeing a therapist, continues to endure nightmares from an experience that may take years to overcome. But experts say that discriminatory language can, on its own, harm children, especially those of color who may already feel marginalized.

“It causes grave damage, as much physical as psychological,” said Elsa Barajas, who has counseled more 1,000 children in her job at the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health.

As a result, she has seen Hispanic students suffer from sleeplessness, lose interest in school, and experience inexplicable stomach pain and headaches.

For Ashanty Bonilla, the damage began with the response to a single tweet she shared 10 months ago.

“Unpopular opinion,” Ashanty, then 16 and a sophomore at Lewiston High School in rural Idaho, wrote on April 9. “People who support Trump and go to Mexico for vacation really piss me off. Sorry not sorry.”

Some of Ashanty Bonilla’s classmates at Lewiston High in rural Idaho harassed her last April after she tweeted a comment critical of Trump supporters. (Rajah Bose/For The Washington Post)

A schoolmate, who is white, took a screen shot of her tweet and posted it to Snapchat, along with a Confederate flag.

“Unpopular opinion but: people that are from Mexico and come in to America illegally or at all really piss me off,” he added in a message that spread rapidly among students.

The next morning, as Ashanty arrived at school, half a dozen boys, including the one who had written the message, stood nearby.

“You’re illegal. Go back to Mexico,” she heard one of them say. “F— Mexicans.”

Ashanty, shaken but silent, walked past as a friend yelled at the boys to shut up.

In a 33,000-person town that is 94 percent white, Ashanty, whose father is half-black and whose mother is Mexican American, had always worked to fit in. She attended every football game and won a school spirit award as a freshman. She straightened her hair and dyed it blond, hoping to look more like her friends.

(Rajah Bose For The Washington Post)

“It’s gotten way worse since Trump got elected. They hear it. They think it’s okay. The president says it. . . . Why can’t they?”

— Ashanty Bonilla

She had known those boys who’d heckled her since they were little. For her 15th birthday the year before, some had danced at her quinceañera.

A friend drove her off campus for lunch, but when they pulled back into the parking lot, Ashanty spotted people standing around her car. A rope had been tied from the back of the Honda Pilot to a pickup truck.

“Republican Trump 2020,” someone had written in the dust on her back window.

Hands trembling, Ashanty tried to untie the rope but couldn’t. She heard the laughing, sensed the cellphone cameras pointed at her. She began to weep.

Lewiston’s principal, Kevin Driskill, said he and his staff met with the boys they knew were involved, making clear that “we have zero tolerance for any kind of actions like that.” The incidents, he suspected, stemmed mostly from ignorance.

“Our lack of diversity probably comes with a lack of understanding,” Driskill said, but he added that he’s encouraged by the school district’s recent creation of a community group — following racist incidents on other campuses — meant to address those issues.

That effort came too late for Ashanty.

Some friends supported her, but others told her the boys were just joking. Don’t ruin their lives.

She seldom attended classes the last month of school. That summer, she started having migraines and panic attacks. In August, amid her spiraling despair, Ashanty swallowed 27 pills from a bottle of antidepressants. A helicopter rushed her to a hospital in Spokane, Wash., 100 miles away.

After that, she began seeing a therapist and, along with the friend who defended her, transferred to another school. Sometimes, she imagines how different life might be had she never written that tweet, but Ashanty tries not to blame herself and has learned to take more pride in her heritage. She just wishes the president understood the harm his words inflict.

Even Trump’s last name has become something of a slur to many children of color, whether they’ve heard it shouted at them in hallways or, in her case, seen it written on the back window of a car.

“It means,” she said, “you don’t belong.”

Georgia Clark taught English at Amon Carter-Riverside High School in Fort Worth, where a student accused her of racism. (Allison V. Smith/For The Washington Post)

Three weeks into the 2018-19 school year, Miracle Slover’s English teacher, she alleges, ordered black and Hispanic students to sit in the back of the classroom at their Fort Worth high school.

At the time, Miracle was a junior. Georgia Clark, her teacher at Amon Carter-Riverside, often brought up Trump, Miracle said. He was a good person, she told the class, because he wanted to build a wall.

“Every day was something new with immigration,” said Miracle, now 18, who has a black mother and a mixed-race father. “That Trump needs to take [immigrants] away. They do drugs, they bring drugs over here. They cause violence.”

Some students tried to film Clark, and others complained to administrators, but none of it made a difference, Miracle said. Clark, an employee of the Fort Worth system since 1998, kept talking.

Clark, who denies the teenager’s allegations, is one of more than 30 educators across the country accused of using the president’s name or rhetoric to harass students since he announced his candidacy, the Post analysis found.

In Clark’s class, Miracle stayed quiet until late spring 2019. That day, she walked in wearing her hair “puffy,” split into two high buns.

Clark, she said, told her it looked “nappy, like Marge off ‘The Simpsons.’ ” Unable to smother an angry reply, Miracle landed in the principal’s office. An administrator asked her to write a witness statement, and in it, she finally let go, scrawling her frustration across seven pages.

“I just got tired of it,” she said. “I wrote a ton.”

Still, Miracle said, school officials took no action until six weeks later, when Clark, 69, tweeted at Trump — in what she thought were private messages — requesting help deporting undocumented immigrants in Fort Worth schools. The posts went viral, drawing national condemnation. Clark was fired.

“Every day was something new with immigration. That Trump needs to take [immigrants] away. They do drugs, they bring drugs over here. They cause violence.”

— Miracle Slover, referring to Georgia Clark, her former English teacher

(Allison V. Smith For The Washington Post)

Not always, though, are offenders removed from the classroom.

The day after the 2016 election, Donnie Jones Jr.’s daughter was walking down a hallway at her Florida high school when, she says, a teacher warned her and two friends — all sophomores, all black — that Trump would “send you back to Africa.”

The district suspended the teacher for three days and transferred him to another school.

Just a few days later in California, a physical education teacher told a student that he would be deported under Trump. Two years ago in Maine, a substitute teacher referenced the president’s wall and promised a Lebanese American student, “You’re getting kicked out of my country.” More than a year later in Texas, a school employee flashed a coin bearing the word “ICE” at a Hispanic student. “Trump,” he said, “is working on a law where he can deport you.”

Sometimes, Jones said, he doesn’t recognize America.

“People now will say stuff that a couple of years ago they would not dare say,” Jones argued. He fears what his two youngest children, ages 11 and 9, might hear in their school hallways, especially if Trump is reelected.

Now a senior, Miracle doesn’t regret what she wrote about Clark. Although the furor that followed forced Miracle to switch schools and quit her beloved dance team, she would do it again, she said. Clark’s punishment, her public disgrace, was worth it.

About a week before Miracle’s 18th birthday, her mother checked Facebook to find a flurry of notifications. Friends were messaging to say that Clark had appealed her firing, and that the Texas education commissioner had intervened.

Reluctant to spoil the birthday, Jowona Powell waited several days to tell her daughter, who doesn’t use social media.

Citing a minor misstep in the school board’s firing process, the commissioner had ordered Carter-Riverside to pay Clark one year’s salary — or give the former teacher her job back.

 

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