In response to heightened anxiety in the weeks after Donald Trump’s election, several advocacy organizations and elected officials are asking the city’s education department to expand anti-bias training and support for immigrant families.
At a rally Thursday afternoon, a few dozen parent-activists gathered outside the department’s headquarters at Tweed Courthouse to call for additional training of 600 staff, including teachers, parent coordinators, and principals to ensure that students feel protected from racist or anti-immigrant sentiment.
“We know that there has been a rise in incidents community-wide,” said Carlos Menchaca, chairman of the City Council’s immigration committee. He noted one incident in which a cafeteria worker “basically said to a kid, ‘I hope you’re ready to pack your bags,’ referring to deportation. That’s just lack of training.”
Several parents, who were organized by the union-backed Alliance for Quality Education and the Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ), had recent stories of their own: A child in an elementary school who feared deportation back to Ecuador, a basketball game that devolved when rival teams began using racial epithets, a Puerto Rican student who was told to “go back to his country” on the subway.
“Schools don’t have the tools to pursue this,” said Angela Martin, a parent and CEJ member who held a sign displaying a photo of a swastika that was spray-painted in Westville, New York. “All city agencies must have a plan — that must include the Department of Education.”
In addition to expanded training for school staff, attendees called on the department to hold “know-your-rights” workshops that can help advise families on how to respond to the type of threats Trump has raised, such as the creation of a Muslim registry or changes to their healthcare or immigration status.
Though state education officials have referenced “disturbing incidents” in recent weeks, it’s difficult to know the extent to which racist or anti-immigrant attitudes that pop up in New York City classrooms have been sparked by the election.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña recently downplayed the issue somewhat, reportedly saying at a Staten Island community meeting that she didn’t think post-election harassment in schools “was as rampant as people were saying” and that most reports turned out to be unfounded.
Still, education department spokeswoman Toya Holness noted the department “share[s] the same urgency” in creating a safe learning environment, and has hired hundreds of new guidance counselors and mental health consultants over the past two years. Officials did not immediately say whether they planned to grant the activists’ requests.
“Schools are safe havens for communities and must be free from bullying, harassment or discrimination of any kind,” she wrote.