Election fallout: "Build the wall" chants at C-R

By Jim Poole

Harsh and hateful words reminiscent of the presidential campaign surfaced at Cobleskill-Richmondville High School just after the election. Minority students and others were upset by chants of "build the wall" and "send them back to Africa" a day or two after Donald Trump won the presidential election. Concerned, Superintendent Carl Mummenthey said administrators and teachers will be extra watchful for such behavior, which has turned violent in a few schools across the country and in New York. Natasha Foote, an Odyssey of the Mind coach and who is black, learned of the C-R incident when her Odyssey students were discussing the incident, which occurred in the high school. "It's natural for kids to have that kind of banter, but when it reaches a different anxiety level, it's hurtful," said Ms. Foote. Her mixed-race daughter is on the Odyssey team and was upset. Ms. Foote, who suffered severe discrimination as a child in Manhattan, was upset, too. "When you say 'send them back,' you're talking about me," she said. Mr. Trump's Mexican wall proposal and his firm words about minorities and immigration, all followed by his win at the polls, made hateful speech more familiar, Ms. Foote believes. "Some grownups are feeling that it's acceptable now, so kids do, too," she said. "They feel empowered." Mr. Mummenthey agreed. "We're in a hyper-charged environment," he said. "People feel both less careful and more sensitive." However, students should be encouraged to talk about politics--but within bounds, Mr. Mummenthey said. "These days, there's a fine balance between what's political and what's hateful," he added. He became aware of Ms. Foote's concern after her Facebook post about the incident. Mr. Mummenthey met with C-R administrators this week and said only one "election-inspired" complaint came up. Still, viewing serious episodes in other schools, Mr. Mummenthey wants C-R to increase its vigilance. The district has tolerance and anti-bullying policies and must be even more prepared for "targeting, bullying or having a student feel unwelcome," he said. Mr. Mummenthey emphasized that students should report hate-speech incidents and can do so to any adult--administrator, counselor, teacher, bus driver, anyone. "If we are aware, we'll take every action we can to hold the person accountable," Mr. Mummenthey said. Ms. Foote did not contact the school at first because she didn't want to appear to be attacking C-R. However, Ms. Foote believes C-R has handled past racial incidents well, including one involving the N-word. "I'm not attacking the school," she said. "They do a good job. "I'm voicing concerns about kids and where this is coming from. It's certainly not the administrators or teachers." At the same time, however, Ms Foote hopes C-R enforces "zero tolerance for language that is discriminatory and hateful."

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