Election Conversations and Resources
School counselors play an important role in helping ensure students learn to have respectful conversations about politically charged issues. Here are some suggestions and resources to consider as you provide ongoing support to your students in the days immediately before and after the 2020 election. Before you take any action, review your school and district policies to be sure you don’t violate any policies as you help your students. For example, some districts have policies prohibiting faculty from talking about politics with students. In addition, consult with your district to discover any guidance or response initiatives it has in place, so your actions align with school and district programs.
Consult and collaborate with relevant stakeholders when student assistance is needed, including the identification of early warning signs of student distress. Student privacy should be honored to the greatest extent possible while balancing the best interests of students and the safety of self and others. Review the ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors when weighing issues of confidentiality.
- Consult with parents if you have concerns about a student and share local referral resources as needed.
- Collaborate with teachers and administrators to ensure information is shared appropriately with those who have a need to know.
- Consult with other school counselors and district school counseling supervisors when considering the best approach for supporting a student or when a breach of confidentiality may be necessary.
- Provide a safe space for students and allies to discuss fears of safety and well-being. Promote sensitivity and acceptance of diversity among all students and staff to include LGBTQ students, immigrants, members of religious minorities and diverse family systems.
- Become familiar with state and federal laws and regulations. When appropriate, remind students the Supreme Court has ruled that all students are guaranteed access to K–12 public education regardless of immigration status.
- Know your school district’s policy. Because of the contentious climate, many districts have enacted content-neutral policies, meaning no political statements or clothing with writing.
- Because school counselors have a curriculum that focuses on diversity, it’s much safer for you to implement diversity lessons than a faculty member, such as the math teacher, whose curriculum doesn’t focus on diversity. Use the ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors as further evidence that diversity training is what you, the school counselor, must do.
- Use the ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors (PDF) and The School Counselor and Equity for All Students position statement as evidence that diversity and a safer school for all are part of the requirements of the ethical school counselor.
- Avoid creating a substantial disruption to the educational process. You are not allowed to do this as a governmental employee.
- Stress Black lives matter as a necessary anti-racist message, not as part of the Black Lives Matter organization. It is viewed as political, and you might be shut down.
- School counselors focus on equity not equality. When one house is on fire, that’s the one we put out, not the house next door, which isn’t on fire. When people say, “Why emphasize Black lives matter when all lives matter?” it is okay to stress one group over another group at different times of crisis.
- Neither school counselors nor students leave their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse door. However, your rights are not absolute. If they hamper your ability to do your job, you can be fired.
School counselors can play a vital role in the schools to help ensure civil discourse among students and other faculty. Following are some considerations to keep in mind.
Review upcoming topics for classroom instruction to determine any adjustments you could make to address your school’s climate. If you don’t have classroom instruction scheduled in the immediate future, consider adding it to have an impact on a larger group of students. Topics such as creating positive relationships and communication skills are appropriate topics after the election.
Encourage all students to treat others with respect and dignity regardless of differences in culture and beliefs. All students deserve to be treated with respect regardless of their political beliefs, socioeconomic background, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, religion and other factors.
For students of some populations, election results may bring not just anxiety and despair, but fear for the future. During an emotional period like this, it is important to remind students that their strong emotions will pass, and they should refrain from drastic or risky behaviors that could have long-term consequences. If they feel they’ve suffered an emotional loss, they must give themselves time to heal.
Don’t provide platitudes or assurances you can’t fulfill. If students are fearful, don’t tell them, “Everything will be okay.” For some students, the dangers they fear are very real. However, you can help them find positive ways to address their fears.
Help students process information or images they find inflammatory in print, television and social media. Very often, simply discussing current events can help students develop a better understanding, and expressing their emotions can help students deal with them more effectively.
Take clear actions to intervene with situations of bullying or harassment and review bullying-prevention activities. Remind students of school and district policies related to offensive language, harassment and bullying.
Check in with students who may be at risk for bullying and harassment, recognizing that all students have the right to be treated equally and fairly with dignity and respect as unique individuals, free from discrimination, harassment and bullying. Reassure them that there are adults who can help, work with them to identify individuals who can help in a time of need, and encourage them to seek out a trusted adult they are comfortable talking to.
Consider additional support through small groups for students who may need more in-depth interventions, and actively identify those students through needs assessments, faculty referrals, observation or other means.
Consult and collaborate with stakeholders to create a school climate that welcomes and appreciates the strengths and gifts of all students, particularly culturally diverse students.
Standards: ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors for Student Success
Standards: ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors
Position Statement: The School Counselor and Equity for All Students
Webinar: Working With Undocumented Secondary-Level Students
Webinar: Infusing a Caring Climate in Your School
Webinar: Alleviating Anxiety Through School Counseling Interventions
Publication: A Framework for Safe and Successful Schools
Speak Up for Civility
Voting and Election Resources for a Civil Classroom
Facing History and Ourselves
Fostering Civil Discourse: A Guide for Classroom Conversations
Post-election Support for Facilitating Difficult Conversations
The New York Times
Civil Conversation for Teens Challenge: Voting and Democracy
Johns Hopkins University
Engaging Students in Civic Discourse
11 Ways Schools Can Help Students Feel Safe in Challenging Times
The National Association of School Psychologists
Guidance for Reinforcing Safe, Supportive and Positive School Environments for All Students
The Child Mind Institute
How to Help Children Cope With Frightening News