An English teacher’s allegedly racially inappropriate comments, discrimination and bullying led a group of a half-dozen Cherry Hill East parents to take their case before the school board Tuesday night, as they requested the district expand its harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) policy to staff and teachers.
The move by the parents came after what they said was repeated attempts to notify district personnel and school board members of what they called a pattern of behavior—everything from racially insensitive statements, to gender bias, to discrimination and insults.
Things got really ugly last month, when the freshman English teacher crossed the line during a vocabulary discussion in class, referencing the word, “bizarre,” the parents said.
“The statement she made utilizing this particular vocabulary word was, ‘There’s nothing bizarre about black men being criminals and going to jail’,” said Susan Levy Warner, one of the six parents who came out to the meeting.
That incident was just one in a series dating back to the fall with this teacher, Warner said, whose honors class has shrunk from 25 students to 11, as students transferred out.
“She denigrates them, she intimidates them, she does not allow them to ask questions, and her behavior has been tolerated repeatedly,” Warner said.
It’s a situation similar to what happened with Akian Chaifetz, who was allegedly bullied by his special education teachers last year, and is another example of the district trying to brush things under the rug, Warner said.
“What we’re finding is that this is a culture—it’s a culture of accepting this kind of behavior,” she said.
Thus far, district staff members haven’t addressed the situation head-on, she said, leaving the students open to “irreparable harm.”
From meetings with East’s principal, the school’s HIB coordinator, a guidance counselor and the district’s affirmative action officer, the parents of the students—mostly minorities—have tried every option available to them, Warner said.
But in trying to file an HIB complaint against the teacher, there were multiple roadblocks—HIB complaint forms were nowhere to be found, Warner said, and the school’s HIB policy only covers student-to-student behavior, limiting the parents’ options.
Despite reams of documents and sworn statements they say back up their case, the parents couldn’t use that policy to help their children, and Warner called for revisions to those policies.
Complaint forms should be readily available, and the HIB process should be uniform across the district, Warner said, and she asked the school board to consider expanding the HIB policy to cover teachers and staff, as well.
“If it were children behaving this way against each other, the children would be expelled, but the teacher is protected,” she said.
Absent that option, Warner and others have filed a formal complaint with the district, but still had concerns over possible retaliation by the teacher, and questioned why the district wouldn’t place her on administrative leave during the complaint process.
“We’re reasonable: We’ve not asked for her to be fired, what we’ve asked is our children be protected,” Warner said. “We want them to do their investigation.”
While school board President Kathy Judge didn’t immediately have an answer for the parents, she said she’d look over the group’s concerns and respond later.
“I hear you loud and clear,” Judge said.
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