ST. PAUL-Educators joined teachers union leaders and a Democratic Congressman at the state Capitol on Monday to denounce the vitriolic tone of the presidential campaign, which they say has led to an increase in bullying.
They criticized Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for making statements in his campaign about minorities, women and people with disabilities that they claim have led to more "hate speech" in schools and fear among immigrant students. Teachers and union leaders in eight other states held similar events Monday to mark the beginning of October as bullying prevention month.
Juanita Ortiz, a St. Paul teacher, read letters from concerned fifth-grade students who wrote to Trump and other politicians asking them to reject hate speech and divisive policies. Ortiz said the students were skeptical their letters would make a difference, but she encouraged them.
"Children asking the adults to uphold the principles of our democracy, especially the majority rule to protect minority rights, would be very powerful," Ortiz said she told them.
Andy Post, the head of Trump's campaign in Minnesota, said in a statement that voters were tired of "the same old double-speak and distractions from career Washington politicians" and would vote for change in November. He also adds that Democrats are taking part in the name-calling.
"We join parents and educators in asking career politicians, like Hillary Clinton, to stop name-calling and labeling millions of Americans, including hard-working veterans, firefighters and working moms as either 'deplorable or 'irredeemable,' as she let slip to fat-cat donors at a Wall Street fundraiser a few weeks ago," Post said.
The educations gathered Monday cited their own experiences with students as well as a recent survey from the Southern Poverty Law Center as evidence for the increase in bullying. More than half of nearly 2,000 educators who responded to the informal survey from the nonprofit civil rights advocate said they noticed an increase in "uncivil political discourse" in schools.
"You see, words matter in our lives," said Anne Lindgren, a speech pathologist in the Anoka-Hennepin school district. "How do we expect our policies and expectations to carry any weight if our children see the opposite in the adults around them."
In 2014, after years of heated debate, the Minnesota Legislature passed a sweeping overhaul of the state's bullying prevention rules. The new law required better training for educators, improved reporting of incidents of bullying and new curriculum for students.
Denise Specht, president the state teachers union Education Minnesota, said teacher don't take sides in political debates in school, but that doesn't mean they can't reject the "bullying, racial profiling and scapegoating" they've heard this election cycle.
While Specht said teachers need to remain nonpartisan in their classrooms, it was clear many of the speakers at Monday's news conference supported Trump's opponent, Democrat Clinton, for president. Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have endorsed Clinton.
Joining the educators was Democratic U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who said Trump's campaign rhetoric toward immigrants was not a "regular old Democrat-Republican moment."
"We are talking about whether we as a nation are going to hang together or turn on each other," Ellison said.