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Hate wave: Post-election incidents reported in region

SWASTIKAS AND anti-gay scrawling in the girls' room. A student brandishing a Confederate flag image on his laptop. Kids passing "White Power" and N-word graffiti on their way to school. A child coming home to report her teacher said to "stop bitching about being black."

SWASTIKAS AND anti-gay scrawling in the girls' room. A student brandishing a Confederate flag image on his laptop. Kids passing "White Power" and N-word graffiti on their way to school. A child coming home to report her teacher said to "stop bitching about being black."

These are just some of the incidents reported in or around the region's schools in the two weeks since Donald Trump was elected president, part of a tide of alleged bullying and hate crimes that has washed over the country.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been tracking hate crimes across the United States for decades, reported several incidents locally among the roughly 700 nationally that center officials say have left them stunned.

"We've never seen anything like this before," said Maureen Costello, who runs the organization's Teaching Tolerance program in schools. She noted that the group had coined the term "the Trump effect" earlier this year because it believed that divisive rhetoric concerning immigrants and race in the presidential campaign was getting picked up and mimicked by schoolchildren.

For his part, Trump said in an interview that aired on CBS's 60 Minutes on Nov. 13 that he was "so saddened" to hear about the insults hurled against minority groups. "If it helps, I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: 'Stop it,' " Trump said.

Meanwhile, school administrators and teachers scrambling for ways to respond have been reassuring worried parents and community leaders and developing strategies to prevent further harassment and bullying.

In the Perkiomen Valley School District, in Montgomery County, Superintendent Clifford Rogers sent parents and other community members a letter after "White Power" was spray-painted on a building near a school and the N-word was written across a large rock. It was later covered with a heart, he said.

Rogers urged parents and students to remain on the lookout and warned that rule-breakers would be punished, adding: "Concern for student welfare is written into our hearts as well as our policies, and I feel we have been successful in helping students learn how to interact with each other in a positive, respectful way."

Still, the sudden surge in incidents has shaken some area schools such as Council Rock North High School, where police have been investigating reports that a note was dropped in the backpack of a Latina student telling her to go back to Mexico, that an "I Love Trump" note was found near three swastikas and an anti-gay message in the girl's bathroom, and that two swastikas were also scrawled on a stall in the boy's bathroom.

At Philadelphia's St. Joseph's Prep, the school community was roiled by a picture of one student holding up an image of a Confederate flag on his laptop while a student next to him held up one with a photo of Trump. The school's president, the Rev. John Swope, said in a statement that the school will focus on teaching tolerance, but he also seemed to blame outside influences.

"We are working with our students to teach them how to model different responses than what they are witnessing in some parts of our country," Swope said.

In the Cheltenham School District, administrators are investigating allegations that during a discussion of the election and its impact and the Black Lives Matter movement, a high school math teacher "told the students to stop bitching about being black," parent Meleah Jennine Brame said.

One girl left the room crying, and others reported the incident to administrators, she said.

Brame said she and others in the Cheltenham African American Alliance had met with the superintendent Nov. 14 and spoken up about their concerns at a school board meeting Nov. 15.

"We feel our kids have enough issues to deal with than to deal with someone who is paid to be a role model and to teach them," Brame said.

Superintendent Wagoner Marseille declined to discuss the matter but in a letter that he read at the school board meeting, he noted that Cheltenham "has not been immune to hurtful words in recent days" and that the administration was investigating a personnel matter.

He also said that he wanted to ensure that students felt safe to talk openly about their personal experiences and that he planned to meet with students to discuss "what the national landscape means for them as young adults."

In other school districts, administrators are struggling to sift through murkier allegations.

In Delaware County's Wallingford-Swarthmore School District, Superintendent Lisa Palmer said a claim - first posted to the Nextdoor Wallingford website and later listed by the SPLC as a possible hate incident - that students shouted "No Muslims on this bus" when Muslim students got on was not true.

Palmer said she tracked down the parent who allegedly made the claim and was told it didn't happen.

"It's not something we would accept," she said.

Other incidents listed by the SPLC include two in New Jersey: In Neptune, a history teacher reported that students have been increasingly mocking a biracial classmate in the days since the election, while another teacher - in an unspecified Garden State community - said he overheard students chanting "10 feet higher!" at Latino peers, evidently a reference to Trump's proposed border wall.

Costello of the SPLC, which has published a guide for educators titled "Responding to Hate and Bias at School," said many schools have been caught off-guard by the flood of incidents and some have "responded by telling teachers not to talk about the election in class, which is not a particularly good way to do it."

For instance, in Sparta, N.J., parents lashed out at school administrators this week for not immediately reporting that a swastika had been found in a school bathroom stall.

Now the SPLC is also focusing, Costello said, on helping schools deal with needs of immigrant children facing heightened anxiety with the ascendance of Trump, who promised at various times during the campaign to deport millions of undocumented migrants.

"These kids are in a very, very vulnerable place right now," she said. "You don't turn that off in a flick of the switch."

610-313-8232 @Kathy_Boccella