BUFFALO, NEW YORK—
Ryan Lysek rose to become vice president of his fifth-grade class at Lorraine Academy in Buffalo, New York, after the sitting vice president was ousted 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 entire country can get away with name-calling and foul language.
The nasty personal tweets and sound bites of the 2016 Republican presidential campaign are reverberating in classrooms, running counter to the anti-bullying policies that have emerged in recent years amid several high-profile suicides.
For teacher David Arenstam's high school class in Saco, Maine, the campaign has been one long civics lesson: “Can you really ban a whole group of people from coming into the country?” the students will ask, or “What's the KKK (the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan), and do they still really exist?”
But mostly, Arenstam said, when it comes to Republican Donald Trump, students “can't believe nobody calls him on the carpet the way that they would be called on the carpet if they said those things.”
There's Donald Trump calling Ted Cruz a “loser” and a “liar” and singling out Muslims and Mexicans for criticism. And there's Marco Rubio mocking Trump's “worst spray tan in America” and calling him a “con artist.”
Cruz says nearly every day on the campaign trail, “I don't respond to insults” and he has been careful not to engage when Trump and others call him names. But during the January 28 Republican debate which Trump didn't attend, it was Cruz who made some quasi-insults he said Trump would have lobbed: “Let me say I'm a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly,” Cruz said, snickering that he was getting “the Donald Trump portion out of the way.”
On Thursday, Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, jumped into the fray, branding Trump “a phony, a fraud.”
“Imagine your children and your grandchildren acting the way he does,” Romney said. “Would you welcome that?”
In the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have focused more on policy than on each other. The Republican race is a different story.
“If students are following this election - and they should be - we have a lot of re-educating to do,” Buffalo school administrator Will Keresztes said. Much of the rhetoric would violate not only the district's code of conduct, he said, but the state's Dignity for All Students Act.
This is not the first campaign to get ugly, but educators, parents and students say this one is particularly challenging because often the biggest applause lines and headline-grabbers fly in the face of appeals for students be respectful and kind.
Pickerington, Ohio, school counselor Kris Owen said students should be reminded that potential colleges and employers won't find a Twitter feed full of insults as amusing as some have found the candidates'. 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?’” said Owen, who was recognized at the White House last month as a School Counselor of the Year finalist.
Candidates “need to think of what's important, the issues, not whether one gets a spray tan. It's just ridiculous,” Ryan Lysek's mother, Cindy Lysek, said.