Parent advocates with the Coalition for Educational Justice said on Thursday they wanted New York City to better train public school staff on addressing incidents of bias in the schools, and engaging students who may be scared about possible deportation or their own safety.
Parents gathered in front of the Department of Education headquarters said that even well-meaning teachers who created opportunities for students to talk about issues did not necessarily have the tools to take the next step and ease students' concerns. They said schools also should be pro-active in engaging students around issues of racism, bias against Muslims and anti-Semitism.
"Have some training for our teachers so that they are able to speak to our kids and see that our kids are really fearful right now," said Angela Martin, an advocate and a parent of an elementary school student in Brooklyn.
Carlos Menchaca, a City Council member representing Brooklyn, said he had met privately with constituents who said their children endured racist comments at school. He said that even though the Department of Education had policies against discrimination, the city needed to do more to make students feel safe and empowered to speak up.
"Those policies are great," Menchaca said, "but they're not working right now and they're also not getting the amount of reporting that they're supposed to be getting because people aren't safe to report."
Advocates specifically called on the city to train teachers, parent coordinators and others to engage students on racist and anti-immigrant incidents. They also asked for more workshops to teach parents about their rights, in light of concerns about deportations, bias attacks and potential changes to health care.
"Schools are safe havens for communities and must be free from bullying, harassment or discrimination of any kind," said Toya Holness, a Department of Education spokeswoman, in a statement.
Holness said education officials shared "the same urgency" as the parents, adding the city was investing $47 million annually to hire more social workers and school counselors and train staff on restorative practices and crisis intervention.