The National Education Association is planning a six-figure advertising campaign that will accuse Donald Trump of bullying behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated in the classroom — let alone the White House.
According to the NEA, the largest labor union in the U.S. at 3 million members, Trump’s incendiary rhetoric gives cover to school bullies who harass religious and ethnic minorities.
Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the president of the NEA, said schoolyard taunts have been inspired by Trump’s support for barring Muslims from entering the country and building a massive wall to stop Mexicans from crossing into the U.S.
“Here we are, five weeks away from the election, and we’re seeing bullying behavior from one of the two people who aspire to be the next president of the United States. We take that very seriously,” she said during a media conference call Monday.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign forwarded the NEA’s conference call announcement to reporters earlier in the day Monday. One year ago, the NEA endorsed Clinton in the Democratic primary.
In recent days, her campaign has homed in on child-focused messaging. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James endorsed Clinton on Sunday as a “champion for children and their futures.” A scathing new Clinton TV ad plays audio of Trump criticizing women’s looks as young girls look at themselves in mirrors. And Clinton herself has cited the supposed “Trump effect” of increased bullying in schools.
Garcia, who taught elementary school for more than 20 years in Utah, said she used to turn every presidential election into a civics lesson by asking students to watch the debates and interview their parents about politics. But she doubts this would be productive in the current political climate.
“I’m not so sure I really want my kids to watch this debate. It’s really kind of disturbing what they’re hearing out there,” she said.
During the media call, Carrie Pugh, the campaigns and elections director for the NEA, said, “We’re spending up to six figures on paid, mail and digital to amplify this message. And, of course, there’s a massive amount of mobilization happening on the ground.”
An April Southern Poverty Law Center report on the Trump effect posits that his campaign has inflamed racial tensions in American classrooms. More than two-thirds of teachers polled said some students — mostly the children of immigrants or Muslims— expressed fear about what might happen to their families if Trump were elected president.
In August, however, PolitiFact noted that it was “not a scientific survey.” The “respondents don’t represent a random sample of teachers, and it’s likely that those who chose to respond to the survey are those who are most concerned about the campaign’s impact on students.”
PolitFact continued: “This means it would be inaccurate to extrapolate from the survey that bullying and harassment are generally on the rise across the country. Rather, it is more a collection of teachers’ anecdotal experiences.”
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., a Clinton supporter and the first Muslim elected to Congress, said during the Monday conference call that Trump “did not start bullying, but he has slammed his foot on the national accelerator to a disturbing and palpable degree.”
Ellison cited a controversy at the University of Minnesota to demonstrate the effect one of Trump’s core campaign promises has had on the student body there. The school’s College Republicans group painted a controversial “Build the wall” mural, and protesters subsequently spray-painted “Stop white supremacy” over it.
“Now we have a group of students kind of at each other because of an idea that he has introduced,” he said.
Joy Bock, an eighth-grade social studies teacher for Groveport Madison Schools, located outside Columbus, Ohio, said on the NEA conference call that she was a lifelong Republican voter but has decided to support Clinton.
“One of my students said something that broke my heart. Before the entire class, she made a startling statement: ‘If Donald Trump wins, I’ll be sent back to Peru,’” she told reporters. “I want to be very clear. This 14-year-old girl is an amazing American citizen, born in the United States. She has never been to Peru, the country her parents emigrated from.”
Julie Rine, a teacher from northeast Ohio, said she hadn’t personally seen Trump-related bullying but claimed that Trump’s electoral success has normalized joking about topics that might hurt minority students.
“They’ll make jokes about building a wall or being on the wrong side of the wall. I think that’s hurtful even if they are joking and it’s not directed at those kids,” she told Yahoo News. In her 21 year of teaching, Rine said, she has not seen kids talking so much about political candidates.
“Again I don’t think they are trying to be hurtful,” she said. “I think they are unintentionally being hurtful.”