LAS VEGAS — -- Elections are commonly used by teachers to show students examples of democracy in action. But with the sensitive and often controversial topics raised in this presidential cycle, some teachers are finding the debates difficult to discuss.
Gina Daniels, a high school social studies teacher in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, told ABC News that some of her students are "afraid to even address the topic" of the election.
"I had to explain to a class of students why sexual assault is not OK and not a joke and not an idle threat. My students — the girls — looked on in horror as the boys tried to justify locker room talk," Daniels said.
She believes Trump's example is leading their thinking. "Why did they do that? It's because they've seen the example of Donald Trump doing just that and they think its OK to try and justify it," Daniels said. "And it's not."
The rhetoric of the election is extending beyond high school classrooms.
Costello said that the effects of campaign rhetoric, particularly on younger students, is a concern. "It's important to remember that these are impressionable children," she said. "They don't have the intellectual background or life experience to be able to critically question these statements."
The tension is more present among members of groups that Trump has targeted in speeches or proposed policies.
"Students who belong to some of the groups that have been specifically identified as sources of problems for the country — undocumented immigrants, particularly Mexicans, and Muslims, for instance — are experiencing a lot of anxiety," Costello said. "They're bringing that anxiety to school and talking about it with teachers."
"Some of the concerns are very real. Will they be separated from their families because of deportation? Will Muslims be treated as enemy aliens? Some of them are damaging to their psyches. Why isn't this country welcoming them? Why do people hate them?" she said.
Daniels said the rhetoric is having "a trickle down effect from the national level."
A Democrat, she tries to stay neutral in the classroom but has had to adapt her conversations.
"I try to remain as neutral as possible. It just becomes really difficult because you can't remain neutral about sexual assault or bullying of immigrants," Daniels said.