Saturday, January 22, 2022

Schools try to calm students after divisive election

— After a year of polarizing ads and divisive language, America continues to feel the effects of Tuesday’s elections because opinions can’t simply be turned off.

In some cities, the backlash has taken the form of protests, but for many people, it’s more personal – a family disagreement, angry posts in a Facebook feed or pointed and snide remarks from a complete stranger.

The discord can be especially hard on children, and area school systems have been trying to help them cope as the adults around them process the historic election.

“We have a school system with teachers and administrators that really support our kids and stand up for their rights,” said Karin Ganter Luker, a native of Peru who now lives in Durham.

Durham Public Schools Superintendent Bert L’Homme posted a message Thursday on the district’s website and Facebook page and sent it to all families in the school system via automated phone calls to reiterate DPS’ commitment to a welcome, inclusive environment.

“DPS reflects Durham’s values of inclusion and respect. We stand for our students’ rights to education and free expression,” the message said. “You are all part of our community, and we are here for you.”

L’Homme made the move after a DPS staffer noticed a high absentee rate among English as a Second Language students on Wednesday. Republican Donald Trump, who has vowed to deport millions of people in the U.S. illegally and build a wall along the Mexican border, had been elected president the night before.

Luker and other parents said the superintendent’s message was reassuring.

“I think it was a turning point for me because I was concerned,” she said. “After that, I felt like, yes, this is positive, and we live in a very positive, diverse and supportive community.”

“As soon as I heard the message, my whole body had chill bumps on it. It really was a bright spot in the day,” parent Merywen Wigley said. “To get a proactive, positive message like this from a leader in our city was very heartwarming.”

Wigley said some of Trump’s words hurt her and others she knows.

“We have this privilege of white skin and upper-middle-class security, and a lot of people don’t, and it really affects the whole community when other people are scared and threatened,” she said.

Jim Causby, interim superintendent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, sent a similar message to families in his district.

“Our schools mirror those characteristics of our community which we cherish most – diversity, inclusion and the freedom to live as we choose. We will continue to support our students and their irrefutable rights for an education free of worry, distress and intimidation,” Causby said in his message.

Both superintendents said counselors would be available to speak with students as needed.

“We need to start building a more open society, a more diverse and inclusive society,” Luker said.

Kidzu Museum in Chapel Hill also issued a message of inclusiveness to its newsletter subscribers.

Kailey Singleton, visitor services and membership manager, said the museum inside University Place mall was careful not to take sides in the election. But in a county where nearly 73 percent of voters picked Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump, many people were visibly upset on Wednesday, she said.

“We had several visitors in tears and feeling down and people offering strangers hugs in the museum,” Singleton said. “No matter what’s going on in the world, we want people to know Kidzu is a safe place for families. All families are welcome here.”

A special thank you to our friends at WRAL for helping out with this post.

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