Seattle School District orders teacher to stop teaching class on race

SEATTLE — A required class on race was suspended at one Seattle public school just two weeks before it was scheduled to end.

The Center School class was stopped last Monday on orders from School Superintendent Jose Banda after a student said teacher Jon Greenberg had created an intimidating environment.

KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter Deborah Horne spoke with several Center School students who disagreed with that assessment of Greenberg's class.

The students told Horne that Greenberg teaches by getting students to open up about their own prejudices to better understand the role race plays in society.

Many students said that they want the class back.

"It is not OK, for me, to stop a curriculum that's really important to me," Center School senior Yasab Pfister said. "We've been working on racism and we were about to talk about sexism, and all of a sudden it got stopped."

"(The class) has definitely forced us to deal with some strong emotions," said Center School senior Kylin Sandstrom, "but I think we're coming out better people for it."

"I felt uncomfortable, but that was more with myself and things that I had done in my past," Center Schoo senior Jasiah Ruby said. "The class itself never felt intimidating to me."

Several students were galvanized by what they contend is an injustice, and they plan to take the cause directly to the School Board when it meets on Wednesday.

On his lawyer's advice, Greenberg would not talk to Horne on camera, but his fellow Humanities teachers said Banda's decision sends a chilling message.

"We have a union contract that guarantees and protects academic freedom," Center School teacher Gerardine Carroll said. "We don't feel that academic freedom is being protected right now."

According to the Seattle School District, the district's Human Resources Department "investigated and concluded the class was intimidating."

A Curriculum Committee is also investigating.

Michael Tolley, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, and Shauna Heath, executive director of curriculum and instruction, issued the following statement on Monday:

Statement on issues at Center School
March 4, 2013

At Seattle Public Schools, we expect every classroom to have an environment that is conducive to learning for all students. We also believe it is important for our students to have access to a wide range of academic subjects, including curriculum on race, gender and social justice.

On December 21, we received a complaint from a family at Center School alleging that the instructional activities used in the Citizenship and Social Justice: Advanced Placement Language and Compositions and Social Studies class included intimidating and discriminating actions, attitudes and classroom environment. Our Human Resources Department then launched an investigation of this complaint, as is our process. At the request of the Superintendent, the Teaching and Learning Department reviewed this particular course, convening an ad hoc committee to examine the curriculum. In the meantime, the class continues to meet and we're reviewing how a portion of it – a six-week race unit that has since ended – will be taught in the future.

Regarding the first issue, the Human Resources department found that the way in which the race unit at the Center School was taught did create an intimidating educational environment for a student.
• School Board Policies 3207 and 3210 require that we teach units in a manner that treats all students with respect, does not intimidate or harass students, and does not discriminate against students because of their race or gender.
• Based on the Human Resources finding, Superintendent Banda requested the Ad Hoc committee meet to review the curriculum.

In the second issue, the Teaching and Learning team is reviewing the Ad Hoc committee's recommendation and making a decision on how the race and other course units are taught in the future.

Seattle Public Schools strongly believes that race and social justice should be taught in our schools. These are important conversations for our students and staff. But we don't want to put any child into a situation where he or she feels so intimated by the manner in which these issues are taught that the course is no longer effective.