As news of hate speech and hate crimes spread throughout the country following Donald Trump’s presidential win, some local students experienced intolerance firsthand.
Shenendehowa Central School District Superintendent Dr. Oliver Robinson issued a letter to parents Monday addressing incidents of bigotry that have occurred at Shenendehowa over the past week. He wrote that there have been “an increasing number of cases of students demonstrating, in words and action, extreme bigotry — both racist and anti-Muslim.”
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Robinson’s statement came just two days after Jessica Cordova, the mother of a Shenendehowa student, published an open letter to school officials addressing the spike in intolerant behavior.
According to Cordova, two days after the election, children were chanting “Build a wall! Kill ’em all! All hail Trump!”
“Of course Shen students have a right and even a responsibility to start exploring political ideologies, learning about our elections and choosing candidates to support, but in a free, democratic society, ‘kill ’em all’ is never acceptable,” wrote Cordova. “It is hate speech, pure and simple.”
Cordova’s son Antonio, 14, whose father was born in Mexico, was reportedly told by other students in Shenendehowa’s High School West that he would soon be deported.
Cordova’s letter expressed concern that Trump’s presidential win has emboldened prejudiced individuals.
“It is incumbent upon everyone else to stand up to the acts of intimidation, discrimination and even small-minded ignorance — to make them understand that we will not tolerate hatred, and we will always defend those who are singled out,” she wrote.
Kelly DeFeciani, Shenendehowa’s public information officer, said no chanting occurred, though she confirmed students said the things Cordova referenced.
“A small group of students have mimicked what they have been hearing, such as ‘Build a wall,’ ‘All hail Trump’ and ‘You are going to be deported,’ ” said DeFeciani.
Robinson was unavailable for comment Monday.
Gilda Mojtahedi moved to the United States from Iran three years ago. She and her family moved to Clifton Park two years ago so their son, Adrian, now 5, could attend Shenendehowa. He is a kindergartner in the school.
Though her son has not experienced racism or bigotry at Shenendehowa firsthand, Mojtahedi said, “I am worried about the coming years. I think we are going to have so many problems, as we are Muslim immigrants from the Middle East.”
She said her family is concerned with Trump’s thoughts on the Iran deal as well.
“It’s going to be hard for all and harder for the minorities — people of color, Muslims, immigrants and refugees, the LGBTQ [community],” she said. “As an Iranian who had the experience of revolution and working so hard for the reform in my own country, I have to say that Americans will have more mature generations in near future if they can pass this period safe and successfully.”
In his statement, Robinson urged parents to speak with their children about tolerance and respect. He also encouraged parents to speak to their children about the importance of being resilient in the face of bigotry.
Community members flooded the comment section below Robinson’s statement on Facebook. Samantha Sagnelli, a Shenendehowa graduate, wrote, “A president-elect cannot be ‘seemingly’ responsible or blamed for the hateful words or actions of other people. If you’re looking to spread a hopeful message about diversity and respecting others within our school community: maybe you shouldn’t have such a strong political bias when doing it.”
Shenendehowa officials responded to that:
“In each of the incidents, Trump has been named specifically,” they said.
Another community member, Meredith Haskins wrote, “I’ve always been proud to say I was a Shen parent, but today, I’m not very proud of much. I applaud Dr. Robinson for bringing the issue to our attention.”
“Bigotry and misogyny, in any form — words, action, or demonstration — has no place in Shen schools, buses or otherwise,” Robinson wrote in the letter to parents. “As a school district, we believe in No Place for Hate and will firmly discipline those who seek to intimidate, harass or create a school environment that causes any student or group to feel intimidated or ill-treated.
“We are better than that as a school community,” wrote Robinson.
Other school districts across the region are grappling with the new reality under Trump’s leadership, as well. They are emphasizing the importance of civil and respectful discourse — just as they would regardless of the campaign season or who sits in the Oval Office — and they are helping students work through fears or concerns about what a Trump presidency might bring.
In Scotia-Glenville schools, a few incidents happened the day after the election: At the high school, educators had to mediate a spat between a gloating Trump supporter and an upset Clinton supporter and at the middle school, teachers and administrators dealt with a comment that a student took to be racially insensitive.
Scotia-Glenville Superintendent Susan Swartz said the district is constantly striving to teach students good character and how to disagree with one another in a respectful way.
“This appeared to be encouraged by the rhetoric of the election season but not specifically tied to it,” Swartz said of the middle school incident. “We have ongoing character education trying to help kids be able to share different opinions and thoughts without making them personal attacks or being cruel about them.”
But she also recognized that presidents serve as de facto role models, and said she’s been thinking about how she would respond to a student who excuses an inappropriate comment by saying, “That’s the way the president talks.”
“I’ve been toying with that; if it ever occurs, that would be a teachable moment for me,” she said. “I would probably say, Well, that may be true, but those are not our standards here.”
Reach Gazette reporter Cady Kuzmich at 269-7239, [email protected] or @cady_kuz on Twitter.
Gazette Reporter Zachary Matson contributed to this story.