By Joseph Goodwin
Eagle Staff Writer
The fallout from a hateful, racist inspired Snapchat video, posted by an eighth grade Tulsa Public School student, which was then shared on school property, continues to have parents perplexed and upset by the lack of immediate action taken by the school district to correct and discipline the parties involved in encouraging a dangerous and threatening atmosphere on school property.
After students asked their teacher, Janice Roberts, her opinion on the derogatory language used in the mobile video application, Mrs. Roberts, an eighth grade Math Enrichment teacher, responded in a manner in direct violation to TPS’s Non-Discrimination policy, which “prohibits discrimination, harassment…based on real or percieved race…. The prohibition applies to students, employees…in any aspects of the district’s programs, including during school hours…or outside schools hours if the conduct affects the education or working environment.”
“Niggers, niggas, and porch monkeys” were the words used in the video, one that was both condescending and threatening in tone. A distraught white student asked Mrs. Roberts, who was not present when the students saw the video, her opinion on the language used, hoping the teacher would declare such words inappropriate. However, when Mrs. Roberts was told what was said, she repeated, in a “joking manner,” the words several times, declaring she and her family frequently used these words.
Thoreau’s assistant principal Joshua Diamond is alleged to have recorded the less than 60 second long video on his mobile device. A call was made to Mr. Diamond, but he did not return the call.
Thoreau Principal Audrey Doctor, when reached, referred all questions to the TPS communications director, whose office issued the following statement, “As educators, we have a responsibility to ensure that every child feels safe, supported, valued, and affirmed. There are absolutely no circumstances under which it would be acceptable for any of our team members to use racial slurs. It is deeply disappointing for anyone on our team to use this kind of derogatory and hurtful language regardless of context or intention. Principal Doctor and her team have taken appropriate follow-up action.”
To the dismay and concern of impacted parents, Mrs. Roberts issued a statement on the incident, addressed to parents in an email. “I used the “N” word in my class to try to teach students how wrong it is to use for any person. I used the word several times to try to emphasize how ugly it sounded. This attempt backfired and I am sincerely remorseful that I have hurt my kids.” Mrs. Roberts added, “This word is not in my vocabulary….”
Several students in the classroom offered a completely different account to Mrs. Roberts’ “white washing” of her behavior. Contacted parents, whose children were impacted by the hurtful video and their teacher’s reaction, read Mrs. Roberts’ apology letter, indicating Mrs. Roberts’ letter was cause for greater concern because of Mrs. Roberts’ blatant denial of the facts, which several parents indicated left their children, “highly upset, and visibly embarrassed”, especially with other “white” children laughing, meaning the apology did not address how these students felt like they were the “butt end of a joke.”
Principal Doctor sent a follow-up email, stating Mrs. Roberts was attempting to, “leverage a teachable moment with students about the power of words.” However, when a student approached Mrs. Doctor on the two incidents, prior to Mrs. Doctor sending out her letter to impacted parents, Mrs. Doctor is alleged to have shrugged her shoulders, adding, “It is what it is.”
Several parents have equally shared in their disappointment in the handling of the entire situation, from the video to Thoreau school administration and faculty’s response, indicating the “damage is already done”, with the outcome being a teacher has normalized the “N” word as okay for 13-year old students, who will now use these word to the detriment of others and themselves.
The parents indicated the lack of transparency by TPS and the school’s attempt to “sweep this incident under the rug” has left them no choice but to file formal complaints with Tulsa Public Schools’ Human Rights Department.