Race-based bullying in District 51 on the rise
Build a wall, deport them all.
You’ll know what it’s going to feel like to be deported.
You can’t play here because you look Mexican.
Those are the words parents and teachers say have circulated in the hallways and on the playgrounds of Mesa County schools in the weeks leading up to and since the election — and School District 51 officials are at a loss to address the discrimination because parents and students so far are afraid of the repercussions of identifying those responsible.
Consuelo Aranda, an interpreter for special education students and families in District 51, said she was walking up to Mount Garfield Middle School on Nov. 9 when a group of students started chanting, “Build a wall, deport them all!”
“I’m a naturalized citizen, but it’s still unsettling, regardless of immigration status — that my kids or my husband or myself will still be targeted because of our features,” Aranda said.
Alice Dussart, an elementary teacher at a local charter school, said the comments she’s heard from young students in recent months are unprecedented in her nine years of teaching.
“I’ve had kids try to keep other kids off of playground structures because they look Mexican,” Dussart said. “Those play structures where that child was not allowed to go play — the other students are calling them Trump towers. I’ve had kids using the ‘N word’ on the playground … and I’ve definitely heard more of boys objectifying girls’ bodies at a younger age.”
Kirk Golba’s daughter attends Fruita 8-9 and is half-Mexican. When she came home after school on Nov. 9, she told her father that her classmates were saying she was going to know what it’s like to be deported.
“When you hear them talk about that happening, it’s kind of like a punch in the gut,” Golba said.
Golba said his daughter didn’t want to talk to school administrators, though he reported the incident to a vice-principal at the school.
There have been a slew of parents and community members contacting district administrators about students being bullied and harassed by other students and even teachers, according to Susana Wittrock, executive director of advocacy, outreach and connections at District 51.
But no one who has reported bullying or discrimination was thus far willing to identify the person who did it, Wittrock said.
“We plead with the families to give us more information, but they won’t tell us names,” she said. “It’s because they’re afraid. They’re afraid of retaliation or that things are going to get worse.”
Aranda said she emailed Mount Garfield Principal Bill Larsen and was told he would talk to staff members about the incident.
“I have to remember that not every single form of discrimination comes from an evil place, and our jobs as educators is to teach them better and teach them that beauty in differences and in diversity,” she said.
Dussart said she requires students who bully others to call their parents.
“We have a lot of conversations in the classroom about mutual respect among people, even if we don’t agree with the other person or their lifestyle choices, that we always must be kind,” Dussart said. “We’ve had some fairly blatant conversations about inclusivity and the repercussions about being unkind to people based on race or gender, that those are things they cannot change, and to ask (students) if they would like to be called out on those things. I always try to put the children in other people’s shoes.”
Wittrock said district administrators are doing what they can to address the issues that arise and encourage teachers and staff to be more aware.
“We’re working within the system to say, ‘Guys, if you hear this, you need to stand up and say what’s right … instead of turning a blind eye or pretending it’s not happening.’” Wittrock said. “We’re encouraging people to speak out and address the behavior. That’s what we’re doing, (but) how do we measure that? I don’t know if we can.”
An email sent by Superintendent Steve Schultz to district staff on Nov. 16 urged unity and understanding, as well as a continued focus on teaching.
“Schools have always been a safe havens for our students. Be assured that in the days, weeks, and months ahead, we will continue to focus on the education and well-being of our students,” Schultz said in the email.
“Bullying, intimidation, and the illegal act of a public school employee asking a student or family about their immigration status will not be tolerated.”