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Tampa Bay teachers, parents brace for tough conversations after Capitol siege

The challenge, as always: allowing discourse about current events without showing partisan bias.

Joshua Newhouse was on the job at Blake High School Wednesday when he learned that a mob of pro-Trump protesters had stormed the U.S. Capitol during a session to certify the November election results.

He worried about his students, given the possibility of local unrest. He advised them to spend the evening at home if they could. ”There will be people out there who don’t have everyone’s interest in mind,” he said. “Just be careful.”

On Thursday, he said, teachers will face challenges that predate the Trump years, but have intensified with a sharply divided electorate: How to allow discourse about current events without showing partisan bias.

“I can’t speak for all teachers in all schools,” said Newhouse, 43 and a media specialist. “I would simply say there is going to be a lot of raw emotion. What the teacher needs to do is realize this is going to be there and not try to shut down the emotion, but try to steer it into a discussion where everyone feels heard.”

The Tampa Bay Times, on social media, asked social studies teachers to talk about their expectations for the coming days, as children and adults process the disturbing images that flashed across their television screens Wednesday.

Some said that, with news events still unfolding, they could not imagine what will be discussed in their classrooms. A few said the event might be taboo, and a few more offered their own sharp opinions about Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Several, like Newhouse, expressed their conviction to keep their own political beliefs under wraps.

As a librarian, Newhouse focuses much of his work on teaching students how to get their information from reliable sources instead of tainted social media.

But, following Wednesday’s explosive events, he said, “teachers are going to have to be very careful,” he said. “Just keep your political ideology out, and keep a basic sense of human empathy in.”

Parents, similarly, are bracing for difficult questions.

Leslie Walbolt of Seminole was driving her son, a Perkins Elementary School second-grader, to a dental appointment when she heard about the Capitol siege on a public radio station.

Although only 7, the child has learned about the legislative branch in school, she said. “He was familiar with Congress and the Senate and his big questions were, has this happened before?”

He asked if his godmother, who lives in the Washington, D.C. area, will be safe. “Overall, he doesn’t seem too scared,” Walbolt said.

They spent the rest of the afternoon at a playground, she said. “I’m sure he’s going to ask me more questions tonight. I always try to answer as honestly as possible.”