Election sours ‘mood’ in schools, state super says

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

State Superintendent Brian Whiston issued a statement Monday in response to “harassing, bullying, intimidating and using hateful speech toward other students” he said has followed in Michigan schools since last week’s U.S. presidential election.

“I realize that certainly at the national level over the past year, we saw the debate go to a new low, and that is impacting the actions, demeanor and mood in some of our schools,” Whiston said. “Our schools must be safe havens for our children — free from hate, free from intimidation, free from bullying and free from fear.”

Whiston said schools need to develop in students a respect for others inclusive of race, religion, orientation or socio-economic standing. He asked that educators and parents teach students that bullying and intimidation are unacceptable and will have consequences.

“We must not let political rhetoric and actions diminish the positive learning environments we’ve worked so hard to nourish,” he said.

Whiston’s comments come less than a week after an incident at Royal Oak Middle School in which some students were videotaped chanting in the lunchroom “Build that wall,” referencing one item in President-elect Donald Trump’s platform: erecting a wall at the border of the United States and Mexico.

The video garnered millions of views on Facebook and sparked debate. It is no longer available for public view.

At DeWitt Junior High in DeWitt, administrators were looking into an incident last week where two, possibly three students laid down in the hall to use themselves to “build a wall.”

In an email to families, Royal Oak Schools Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin said he initiated a conference call Monday with individuals who work with staff and students on cultural sensitivity and diversity issues.

“Later this week, at our request, state officials who work in the area of civil rights will meet with us,” he wrote. “I am also reaching out to districts that I know who have active diversity committees. While we have current work happening with staff and students on these issues, there is always more that can be done.”

Lewis-Lakin included a form for those interested in participating in a Royal Oak Schools Climate & Culture Committee. He thanked those who have already reached out to help the district.

“We are committed to a school environment that is inclusive and caring, where all feel valued, safe, and welcome,” he said. “Bullying behavior, harassment, words and actions that cause others pain, words or actions that cause others to question their value: these are not acceptable in our schools.”

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