The 2016 presidential election has been causing tempers to flare and tension to rise around the country for months, as any adult reading the news or with a social media account is well aware.
Also aware of the tension are children and teens, equipped with their own social media accounts and internet access, and who mirror parental concerns to their peers at school.
While student engagement in national issues is encouraged by administrators and teachers in Peninsula School District, several incidents following the Nov. 8 election raised concerns from parents and staff, according to Superintendent Robert Manahan.
“It wasn’t necessarily a left-versus-right-type of deal,” Manahan said. “I’m not against discussion about political or ideological issues. I am against hateful or hurtful language.”
It wasn’t necessarily a left-versus-right-type of deal. I’m not against discussion about political or ideological issues. I am against hateful or hurtful language.
Robert Manahan, superintendent of Peninsula School District
Many of these incidents took place in the district’s secondary schools — including taunts on social media and face-to-face confrontations — but also extended to students in elementary schools expressing fear and insecurity for themselves and their families.
These incidents — involving supporters of both Hillary Clinton and President-Elect Donald Trump — prompted Manahan to issue a letter Nov. 16 outlining the district’s commitment to keeping students safe and welcome in their schools.
“It was intended to reassure our students and parents that this is a safe environment,” Manahan explained. “You cannot learn unless you’re in a safe environment.”
(The letter) was intended to reassure our students and parents that this is a safe environment. You cannot learn unless you’re in a safe environment.
Included in the letter was Manahan’s philosophy for PSD students, staff and the community to “feel Loved, Respected, Valued, Capable and that they Belong.”
“When adults and kids don’t get those needs met, they find other ways to meet them,” Manahan said. “In this district we’re going to meet those needs.”
Parental and community response to the letter has been largely positive, with a lesser percentage sharing questions or concerns, which were addressed by Manahan or the district’s director of community outreach, Kathy Weymiller.
“Both as a parent and as an employee I was heartened by the leadership (Manahan) showed on this difficult topic,” Weymiller said. “This is a very unique time.”
Both as a parent and as an employee I was heartened by the leadership (Manahan) showed on this difficult topic. This is a very unique time.
Kathy Weymiller, director of community outreach
While student safety and security remain a priority, Manahan also believes that discussion of difficult topics can take place with students, while maintaining respect and tolerance for a difference in opinions.
“Education has always been about teaching tolerance and empathy and respect for others,” Manahan said. “I think we can frame and model for kids good civil discourse about what’s going on in our country.”
Manahan said that he’s already witnessed some of these discussions in classrooms throughout PSD district high schools and has heard from students in those schools that they want more opportunities to engage in debate about these issues.
“That’s what I like to see, that’s why we give kids a chance to explore,” Manahan said. “Our young people are the next leaders of our country, so I think their engagement is great.”
The timing made (the letter) seem very, very political, but it wasn’t political. It was a statement of care and support.
As tensions have cooled around PSD in the weeks following the election, the district’s commitment to student safety and security remains, as always, a priority to administration and staff in every school.
“The timing made (the letter) seem very, very political, but it wasn’t political,” Manahan explained. “It was a statement of care and support.”
Manahan is clear about the district’s support in the letter, which states in part: “I want those whom we serve to know that we will support and protect you, and to feel that these rights apply to all those we come in contact with. Such respect is not dependent on your race and ethnicity, on your family background, religion, customs or beliefs. In the Peninsula School District, we affirm that you are respected, valued, loved, and an important member of our school community whatever your sexual orientation, gender identity, physical or academic special needs. We will support you, embrace you and value you as individual human beings.”