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Thursday, December 8, 2016

New Report Examines School Climate Post-Election, Finds Heightened Anxiety and Harrassment

From the Education Law Prof Blog

By Derek Black
December 1, 2016 

"Eight in 10 (of the educators surveyed) report heightened anxiety on the part of marginalized students, including immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and LGBT students." 


The South Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project conducted a survey in the days following the election and got responses from over 10,000 teachers, counselors, administrators and others who work in schools.

SPLC described the responses as,

"... indicat[ing] that the results of the election are having a profoundly negative impact on schools and students. Ninety percent of educators report that school climate has been negatively affected, and most of them believe it will have a long-lasting impact. A full 80 percent describe heightened anxiety and concern on the part of students worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families. Also on the upswing: verbal harassment, the use of slurs and derogatory language, and disturbing incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes and Confederate flags."

The survey used the results from its earlier survey in March as its baseline to determine if things had gotten worse. One of the most troubling lines in the report is: "The increase in targeting and harassment that began in the spring has, according to the teachers we surveyed, skyrocketed. It was most frequently reported by educators in schools with a majority of white students."

Its summary findings include:

  • Nine out of 10 educators who responded have seen a negative impact on students’ mood and behavior following the election; most of them worry about the continuing impact for the remainder of the school year.
  • Eight in 10 report heightened anxiety on the part of marginalized students, including immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and LGBT students.
  • Four in 10 have heard derogatory language directed at students of color, Muslims, immigrants and people based on gender or sexual orientation.
  • Half said that students were targeting each other based on which candidate they’d supported.
  • Although two-thirds report that administrators have been “responsive,” four out of 10 don’t think their schools have action plans to respond to incidents of hate and bias.
  • Over 2,500 educators described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric. These incidents include graffiti (including swastikas), assaults on students and teachers, property damage, fights and threats of violence.
  • Because of the heightened emotion, half are hesitant to discuss the election in class. Some principals have told teachers to refrain from discussing or addressing the election in any way.

The title of the report hangs this problematic upswing on the President-elect: The Trump Effect: The Impact of The 2016 Presidential Election on Our Nation's Schools. While the upswing in problems seems clear enough, the cause of the problem is far more complex. Trump no more created racism than did Obama eliminate it. The election of both may have ironically unleashed new strains of it in their own time.

Likewise, as bitterly contested as the election was among their parents, it is no surprise that tensions filtered into schools. In schools, thing can often get worse, because schools offer a captive audience populated by immature (which is not meant pejoratively) and developing young persons. Some might recall students proudly donning Obama T-Shirts following his elections, which predictably led to incidents.

With that said, this time it does appear to be more serious. The important point, however, is not Trump, Obama, or the election. The important point is that, thus far, the climate in many schools and for many children has not been good.


When that climate produces a negative environment aimed at students based on race, ethnicity, gender, disability, or language status, federal law obligates schools to act to address the situation.

If they do not, it will be the job of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education to step in, both now and under the next administration. And federal law aside, when the climate negatively effects student learning, it is the job of school leaders to constructively address it.

Get SPLC's full report HERE.

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