Freeport parents, clergy members and neighboring Long Islanders rallied in front of J.W. Dodd Middle School on Pine Street in Freeport on Tuesday, demanding that the Freeport School District fire an eighth-grade social studies teacher who required students to write humorous captions under photographs of former slaves.
The district launched an investigation and confirmed at a Sept. 24 Board of Education meeting that the teacher instructed three classes of students to write captions for photos of post-Civil War, Reconstruction era sharecroppers, but has not released the teacher’s name.
The teacher issued an apology through Dr. Kishore Kuncham, superintendent of schools. It read, in part, “It is with the deepest sense of respect that I apologize to the students, families and larger Freeport community for my insensitive words and actions last week. As a teacher and fellow member of this school community, it’s my responsibility to exercise the highest degree of care and thought with all of my student and faculty interactions.”
The teacher was reassigned to administrative duty outside the classroom.
“As a father, I’m disappointed,” said William Moss, of Black Long Island. “As an educator, I’m disgusted. And to me there is no apology great enough for violating human dignity and for teaching students to violate human dignity as well.”
“I was mortified to hear that any teacher in this day and age would go forward with that kind of assignment,” Shanequa Levin, of the Women’s Diversity Network, said. “Making slavery a joke is completely unacceptable.”
Freeport parents and students walked in a circle in front of the Dodd entrance with picket signs that read, “I just want an education, not a racist history lesson” and “End Racism in Freeport Schools,” while chanting “Racist education, shut it down.”
Freeport parents want the teacher removed from the district and her teaching license revoked. In addition to her firing, parents demanded that school districts hire more teachers of color and provide cultural sensitivity training for all staff.
“We want to make sure that any teacher that is giving out racist class assignments or homework is fired,” Levin said. “It should be grounds for immediate termination.”
The Rev. Frank O. White, of Zion Cathedral, was among the protesters, and said that teaching children the history of slavery is an important lesson, noting that slavery had a 400-year history in North America. “There is a plethora of [ways] to teach” it, he said.
A few parents said that students were forced to complete the assignment out of fear of getting a bad grade.
“There’s damage,” Freeport parent Loraine Marin said. “Our kids need to be taught differently. This affected every student in this district.”
Dr. Shaireen Rasheed, professor of race and diversity at LIU Post, said she believed the teacher’s action violated the New York State Dignity for All Students Act, which since 2012 has required schools to provide a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment and bullying. The act also includes “awareness and sensitivity in the relations of people, including but not limited to, different races, weights, national origins, ethnic groups, religions, religious practices, mental or physical abilities, sexual orientations, gender identity and sexes.”
“This act is in place to ensure that situations like this never happen,” Rasheed said. “This is a straight violation of this.”
Rasheed also pointed out that Long Island’s demographics have changed, but not when it comes to teachers, and she favors Long Island school districts hiring more teachers of color.
Freeport school district said they have no further comments as this matter is considered a personnel matter. The district also added they are following appropriate protocol outlined by education law during this process.