Susan Enfield, superintendent of Highline Public Schools, writes about her pledge to support all Highline students amid the presidential race's sometimes hateful political rhetoric.
In recent months the political rhetoric nationwide has become increasingly divisive and disturbing. Some political candidates are being, in my opinion, irresponsible in the things they are saying and are either ignorant or insensitive to the impact their words are having on many, especially our young people.
We in Highline pride ourselves on the diversity of our community. We know that the rich cultures and languages of our students and families are not only an asset, but also an integral part of our shared identity and experience. It is important that we remain aware of the toll this national conversation is having on many in our Highline community and in similarly diverse communities across our state and nation.
Some of our Highline students feel afraid for their safety because of what they are hearing in the news. Some have been bullied by other students because of their accent, religion, or skin color. Muslim students report being called “terrorists” by classmates. 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.
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.
Regardless of our own political affiliation or beliefs, as educators we each have an obligation to our students and families to ensure they feel safe, welcomed and respected at school. In Highline, we have reaffirmed our commitment to intervene when we see or hear offensive, bigoted words and actions. We 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.
As is so often the case, I have found my greatest role models for tolerance and courage not in those who hold, or aspire to, positions of power, but rather in our very own Highline students. Members of the Highline High School Student International Rescue Committee crafted a statement of solidarity in response to the current climate of hateful speech. These remarkable students inspire and challenge each of us to “respect people the way that we want to be respected [and] strive to live out the promise of the American ideal.” I encourage you to read and share this powerful, honest statement with your friends and colleagues.
I have asked all Highline staff to be especially mindful of the safety, security and sense of belonging our students feel right now. Our students are brilliant, beautiful and brimming with promise, and they need our protection, advocacy and reassurance now more than ever. This is our moral obligation as educators and as citizens.
Susan Enfield is the superintendent of Highline Public Schools. A former high school teacher, Enfield served as chief academic officer and then as interim superintendent for Seattle Public Schools before joining Highline in 2012. She previously held leadership positions in Evergreen Public Schools (Vancouver, WA), Portland Public Schools and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Tell us in the comments or by using this survey how you’re talking to your children or students about the political rhetoric they’re hearing during this presidential election. We may use your responses in a follow up story.