Rude political candidates conflict with school anti-bullying rules

By Associated Press

03.09.16

BUFFALO, N.Y. —

 Ryan Lysek rose to become vice president of his fifth-grade class at Lorraine Academy in Buffalo, New York. The sitting veep got bounced for saying things that went against the school's anti-bullying rules. So the 10-year-old is a little puzzled that candidates running to lead the country can get away with name-calling and foul language.

The nasty personal tweets and sound bites of the 2016 US presidential campaign are being echoed in today's classrooms. They go against the anti-bullying policies of recent years that were set in place after some tragic suicides.

For teacher David Arenstam's high school class in Saco, Maine, the campaign has been one long civics lesson. Students ask, "Can you really ban a whole group of people from coming into the country?" or "What's the KKK, and do they still exist?" “What does it mean to be unqualified?”

Students Can't Get Away With What Candidates Say

There's Donald Trump calling Ted Cruz a "loser" and a "liar." He also criticizes Muslims and Mexicans. Marco Rubio has been mocking Trump's "worst spray tan in America" and calling him a "con artist."

Arenstam added that students cannot believe Republican Donald Trump has not been "called on the carpet the way that they would be called on the carpet if they said those things."

Cruz says nearly every day on the campaign trail, "I don't respond to insults." He has been careful not to answer back when Trump and others call him names. During the Jan. 28 Republican debate, however, which Trump did not attend, it was Cruz who said: "Let me say I'm a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly." Cruz joked that he was getting "the Donald Trump portion out of the way."

"It's Not OK"

The Democrats have two people running for president, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. They also insult each other. Clinton has called Bernie Sanders “sexist.” On his side, Bernie Sanders has continued to say that Hillary is unqualified in a very aggressive and irritated way.

Buffalo school administrator Will Keresztes worries that much of the speech-making violates the district's code of conduct and the state's Dignity for all Students Act. He adds there might be "a lot re-educating to do."

Sioux City, Iowa, had problems, too. Superintendent Paul Gausman had to decide if Trump could hold a campaign rally in a school. Students protested. They used their own anti-bullying rules in trying to stop it.

Protest organizer Ismael Valadez said: "He makes people at his events think that saying the kinds of things he does to other people is OK. It's not OK,"

In the end, Gausman let the Trump campaign hold the rally at the school. He said free speech and the right to assemble were the main reasons.

"I was very proud of our students for the way they engaged in the political process in a respectful manner, and I think they made their point," the superintendent said. Their district was featured in the 2012 documentary "Bully."

Campaign Is Difficult To Explain

This is not the first campaign to get ugly. Educators, parents and students, however, say this one is more difficult to explain. Often the biggest applause lines and headline-grabbers go against the students' sense of respect for one another.

Pickerington, Ohio, school counselor Kris Owen said students should be reminded that colleges and employers will not find a Twitter feed full of insults to be funny. She suggested using the comments as conversation starters.

"Say, 'Listen, how would you feel if someone was saying these things about you? How could this person approach it differently, or why don't you all develop your own campaigns using positive tools instead of the negativity?'" Owen said. She was honored at the White House last month as a School Counselor of the Year finalist.

Will Bullying Prevention Efforts Be Hurt?

Candidates "need to think of what's important, the issues, not whether one gets a spray tan. It's just ridiculous," said Ryan Lysek's mother, Cindy Lysek.

Ryan's teacher at Lorraine Academy worries about the future of the bullying prevention efforts promoted by President Barack Obama in recent years. This has included a 2011 White House anti-bullying summit and a 2010 YouTube video for the "It Gets Better" project aimed at bullied gay youth.

"Now we have these people that want to be president that are completely turning it around and sending this horrible message to all of America that I'm a bully and that's how I want to get into the presidency," teacher Kelly Gasior said. Gasior organizes an anti-bullying 5-kilometer run at the school each year. "What are they going to do with the bullying problem that's going in schools?"

Praise Instead Of Bullying

During a debate before the fifth-grade class elections, the moderator asked candidates to say nice things about a rival's ideas. Olivia Mashtaire, another of Gasior's students, praised a classmate's call to clean up the courtyard.

The 10-year-old was elected president.

"I didn't have any rude comments in my head," she said. "I liked everybody's ideas."

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