Post-election taunts reported at Jackson schools

Friday, December 2, 2016

In the weeks following the presidential election, instances of hate speech were reported in schools throughout the country.

Local school administrators claimed no such incidents were taking place in their schools. But stories from parents and teachers indicate otherwise.

After an initial story reporting no incidents, a parent in the Jackson School District reached out to the Southeast Missourian, telling how her children and their classmates are being targeted.

For example, statements about being “sent back” to another country were made to certain students after the election but went unreported, according to the parent, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions for her children.

President-elect Donald Trump has said he disavows such behavior. Some of his rhetoric during the campaign, however — particularly about Mexicans and Muslims — energized hate groups, and many racist incidents across the country invoked his name.

Marissa Higuera teaches Spanish at Jackson High School and sponsors Cool Kids Against Bullying, the anti-bullying club on campus.

She said issues have arisen since the election. She cited a separate incident of “go home” rhetoric, as well as another case in which a student was called a derogatory term.

To respect and protect the student, she declined to repeat exactly what was said but confirmed it was devastating to the targeted student.

The incident, she said, happened on and was reported Nov. 9, the day after the election.

Not only did Higuera report the latter incident to an assistant principal, but a member of the anti-bullying club did, too, on behalf of the student.

“Because we are the anti-bullying [club], they are coming to us,” Higuera said.

The district has a space on its website to report incidents of bullying anonymously, she said, but “sometimes they feel better coming to us.”

The specific incident was reported to a principal and handled quickly, she said.

Administrators spoke to the student and the student’s parents. She said the student has been seen around the halls looking happy and confident.

Higuera praised the school’s administrators for their quick response.

“The principal is addressing any issues immediately,” she said.

Jackson High School principal Seth Harrell would not acknowledge whether an incident occurred but said all instances of bullying are passed through the chain of command and reach his desk.

“We try to create as many avenues for students to report that information. It could be a classroom teacher, a counselor or an administrator,” Harrell said. “Our staff members do an amazing job of passing that information on.”

Jackson School District superintendent John Link acknowledged an incident occurred that was not discussed with the Southeast Missourian when it requested information.

It was a matter of communication, he said.

The high-school administrators who were involved in the incident were not available when the district reached out with a query.

The person who responded said nothing out of the ordinary occurred.

“There’s a lot of incidents that happen in our buildings that don’t get to the district level,” Link said. “We have administrators who are very well-trained to handle situations, and if they feel like it’s been taken care of, it will get here, and sometimes it won’t.”

While Link said the student and the student’s parents were spoken to following the incident, how the instigator in this situation was handled is unclear.

Link declined to talk about discipline.

“This has been going on since I was in school 40 years ago,” he said. “One of the unfortunate things is we live in a world where not only kids are saying ugly things, but adults are saying ugly things.”

Link said in addition to protecting those who are targeted, the school aims to educate students on proper behavior rather than just dictate rules and discipline.

Among the district’s many goals is for its graduates to go on to be good and empathetic citizens, he said.

Link and Harrell expressed pride in the efforts made by the school’s anti-bullying club under the sponsorship of Higuera.

Harrell said the club is promoting a positive environment within the school.

Higuera praised the efforts of her students, particularly those in her Spanish V class, who are the founding members of Cool Kids Against Bullying.

“They are doing the work,” Higuera said. “They are watching, and they are standing up for others.”

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