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Several New York State Teachers Placed on Leave Following Discovery of ‘Racist and Demeaning’ Texts

Published: June 1, 2022
Students wear masks as they play in the gymnasium at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on Jan. 05, 2022 in New York City. Several teachers in Rochester, New York, have been placed on leave following the accidental discovery of text messages, allegedly sent by the teachers, that were described as ‘racist and demeaning.’ (Image: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Several public school teachers employed at Enrico Fermi School 17 in Rochester, New York were placed on leave last week after students accidently discovered text messages that were exchanged between the teachers that officials described as “racist and demeaning.”

The school teaches students in grades kindergarten through to eight and according to the Democrat and Chronicle serves many black and Hispanic students. 

No evidence of the use of racist slurs has been presented. 

One of the messages, discovered on May 21, when one of the teachers involved allowed a student to use her cell phone for a video, reportedly “used an obscenity to wish for one girl to beat up another.”  

Another text suggested sending out an automated phone call to “90% of the kids” and their families saying “I’m calling to remind you that you are a [expletive] parent and your kid is a [expletive] like you. Thanks.”

Another text, to which two of the teachers responded with laughter read, “Dave said I have to take my clothes off in the garage and put them in a bag and put them in the dryer on hot, and then get a job in Penfield.”

Jennifer Lopez, a mother of one of the students named in one of the texts and whose child originally discovered them, was in attendance at a large group meeting addressing the matter on May 25 which included the children, parents, teachers and union officials. 

The six teachers involved were also in attendance and admitted they’d written the texts and apologized.

Lopez wasn’t convinced with the apologies saying, “I told them: ‘I don’t think you’re sorry. I think you’re sorry you got caught.’”

Many of the students referenced in the texts are in eighth grade meaning this is one of their final memories at School 17 prior to heading to high school in the fall.

Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small blasted the teachers behavior in a message to the staff writing, “I am horrified at the racist and demeaning references and language used to describe children…our children!”

“The staff members have been put on leave and the District will use all forms of available discipline up to and including termination,” she wrote. 

Not the first incident

The incident follows reports of another Rochester teacher being placed on leave for racist behavior.

A teacher at Rochester’s School of the Arts was placed on leave after placing handcuffs and leg shackles on his mostly black students and making them pick cotton during a seventh-grade social studies class, the Democrat and Chronicle reported. 

During the “exercise” the teacher, Patrick Rausch, instructed his students to refer to him as “massah” and allowed white students to stop participating when they complained, but not the black students. 

Precious Tross, whose daughter Ja’Nasia Brown is in Rausch’s class, said she “almost drove off the road” when she heard of the incident and posted to Facebook about the incident including a picture of a ball of cotton that her daughter brought home from school. 

“She’s traumatized; she feels belittled,” Tross said adding that, “He made a mockery out of slavery.”

The district has confirmed that the cotton-picking lesson took place saying the incident was of “great concern,” and that Rausch is on leave while the district investigates further. 

In an email sent to families and all the seventh-grade students the school board wrote, “The district takes these situations very seriously, as descriptions of what occurred in the classroom by the school community are extremely troubling.”

Another parent, Vialma Ramos, whose son, Jahmiere O’Neal said he had picked cotton at school, initially didn’t believe the incident took place saying it sounded too “far-fetched” until she saw Tross’ post on Facebook.

“I have fought all along for Jahmiere to be included in everything his peers are, and this man degraded him, insulted him and made him not want to be black,” adding that, “I was in shock.”

Cynthia Elliot, School Board President, said she was withholding judgment until an investigation is complete. 

“If that’s what happened, it’s problematic, it’s troubling and it shouldn’t be going on. I don’t know why a person would want to teach black and brown students in the city of Rochester if they feel like that.”