5 ways to fight school bullying under the Trump administration

The president has empowered those who bully. It’s up to the rest of us to push back.

CREDIT: iStock
CREDIT: iStock

Our president’s rhetoric has sparked bullying in classrooms nationwide.

According to a survey done by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign led directly to “heightened anxiety on the part of marginalized students, including immigrants, Muslims, African Americans, and LGBT students.”

Other research reinforces the idea that this issue is on the rise. This month, a cyberbullying researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire released data showing an increase in the number of high school students being bullied because of their race or skin color compared to previous years.

And the latest Department of Education data show that 13 percent of students reported being “made fun of, called names, or insulted,” while 5 percent of students reported being “pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on.” Students living in poverty and female students are more likely to report being bullied. Interestingly, students who live in the Midwest — the areas of the country that carried Donald Trump to victory — are also more likely to report being victimized by bullying.

Meanwhile, the president of the United States continues to normalize hate speech on Twitter and in speeches.

Now that Trump has undermined civil society and empowered those who bully, this is a problem that our communities, schools, and teachers must face. It’s now squarely the responsibility of state and local education leaders to ensure that students feel safe in their learning environments. And they have a lot of work to do. Because Trump isn’t doing the best job modeling the traits of a compassionate, open-minded leader, state and local anti-bullying efforts are all the more important.

Here’s how state and local education leaders can fight bullying in schools during the years of the Trump administration:

1. Assess school climates. School and district leaders should continuously gather information to assess school climates, possibly using tools like the National School Climate Center’s Comprehensive School Climate Inventory. School climate directly impacts student achievement, dropout rates, violence, and teacher retention. This information can help school and district leaders cultivate more safe and engaging learning environments.

2. Provide funding and resources. State leaders can incentivize and support districts and schools that seek to promote safe schools. The Colorado Department of Education’s Bullying Prevention and Education Grant Program provides funding to schools and districts that implement evidence-based bullying prevention strategies. The state also offers schools and districts an online cache of research and best practices to help education leaders reduce bullying.

3. Train teachers to fight bullying. States and districts can provide teachers with increased access to resources and professional learning opportunities that can help them fight bullying in their classrooms. StopBullying.gov provides a trove of information and resources for teachers to utilize in their classrooms, while the Center for Safe Schools provides a monthly bullying prevention webinar series for educators.

4. Engage students and parents. Research shows that when students and parents are involved in bullying-prevention efforts, schools can develop more responsive solutions and school climate improves. The PACER Center, which provides support and advocacy for children with disabilities and their families, created a toolkit for students to help them form bullying prevent committees and plan events in support of more inclusive school environments. School and district leaders can disseminate materials like these to gather widespread support to fight bullying.

5. Promote a whole school positive discipline and training approach. Studies have shown that whole-school positive behavior interventions lead to decreased student discipline problems. School and district leaders should ensure that all staff members — from bus drivers to lunch staff to school resource officers — are trained to reinforce positive student performance. Promisingly, Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act provides over $1.5 billion in funding that state and local educational agencies can tap to “support safe and healthy students,” which could include positive behavior support and social-emotional learning instruction.

Across the country, teachers and students continue to battle bullying every day. Over the past year, teachers have reported increases in “verbal harassment, the use of slurs and derogatory language, and incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes, and Confederate flags.” Meanwhile, troubling new survey data from the National Center for Transgender Equality found that more than half of transgender students reported being verbally harassed at school, while another 24 percent said they were physically attacked.

Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s top advisers, recently critiqued the media by complaining, “You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.” Unlike Conway, our nation’s students know that words matter. State and local education leaders are now charged with stopping bullying so that all students, from Michigan to California to Florida, can learn in safe and supportive schools.

More than ever, our country’s political climate demands it.

Annette Konoske-Graf is a Policy Analyst with the K-12 Education team at the Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed at the Center for American Progress.