BURIEN, Wash. – A Washington schools superintendent felt compelled recently to pen a letter to parents about the “divisive and disturbing” presidential election after students repeated remarks made by some candidates.
“As the U.S. presidential campaign gains intensity, we find ourselves living in a political climate that is becoming increasingly divisive and disturbing for many of us,” Highline Public Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield wrote in a letter to parents March 21.
“Some of our student feel afraid for their safety because of what they are hearing in the news. Some have been taunted, teased or ridiculed by others who are acting on what they hear,” she wrote. “This is unacceptable.”
Enfield told KIRO that students in the district have repeated comments made by presidential candidates, and said the situation isn’t limited to comments from Donald Trump, who has been continuously attacked as racist for his proposed immigration policies.
“I did use one example in my letter, about a student seeing a ‘Trump Wins’ headline, and crying, thinking that he was going to be deported,” Enfield said. “This is a young child. He doesn’t know. Somebody says ‘if this person gets elected, you will be deported.’ Now, obviously, that’s not accurate.”
In her letter to parents, published by the B-town Blog, Enfield vows to root out any and all offensiveness from student discourse.
“We commit to intervene when we see or hear offensive, bigoted words and actions. We commit to communicate, daily, to each of our students that our promise of knowing them by name, strength and need means that we will protect, advocate for and value them equally no matter their race, language or ethnicity,” she wrote.
The letter does not specifically define words the superintendent deems “offensive” or “bigoted.”
Instead, it points parents to a “Statement of Solidarity” put together by the Highland High School Student International Rescue Committee.
“These remarkable students inspire and challenge each of us to ‘respect people the way we want to be respected (and) strive to live out the promise of the American ideal,’” Enfield wrote.
She encouraged parents to report anything offensive they might observe in district schools.
“I have asked our staff to be especially mindful of the safety, security and sense of belonging our children and young adults feel right now, and I ask you to partner with us in that,” the letter read. “Let your school’s principal know if you see or hear anything that concerns you.”
Enfield echoed the same sentiments in a March 18 editorial for The Seattle Times.
“Latino students fear they and their families will be deported. An elementary school teacher told me one of her students began sobbing after seeing the headline ‘Trump Wins,’ thinking deportation was imminent,” she wrote. “This is unacceptable. We do not tolerate this kind of bullying behavior in our schools, and we should not tolerate it in our wider communities or our political races.
Enfield insists her message isn’t politically motivated, but rather one aimed at protecting the sensitivities of minority students. She said she came to realize there was a problem when students sent her profane messages on Twitter.
When confronted, one student was “almost to the point of tears – and said, ‘we just didn’t know what else to do. And look in the news. Look at the people who get attention,’” Enfield told KIRO. “That was the day that stopped me in my tracks and I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, those are the lessons our kids are taking away right now.’”