PALMDALE — A group of community activists including a Summerwind Elementary School parent and employee said the Palmdale School District is taking too much time to investigate the circumstances surrounding a photo of four white first-grade teachers from the school pointing and smiling at a noose in the teachers’ lounge.
The photo was allegedly taken by Summerwind Principal Linda Brandts on May 1 and emailed to Summerwind’s staff. The photo became public a week later, sparking outrage in the community. Brandts, who also serves as clerk of the Southern Kern Unified School District, and the four teachers, were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.
“Seeing a picture of four white women holding a noose, laughing and pointing, brought disgust, uncertainty and panic along with anxiety. It also brought along a lot of feelings of not being supported by my school staff. We are here a month later and yet we still have no answers,” Latoya Harper, a student interventionist at Summerwind Elementary, said during a Wednesday morning press conference held on the steps of the District office.
Harper added the District wants the controversy to be forgotten and swept under the rug.
“But we’re here to let them know we have not forgotten about it. We are not moving on. Matter of fact, the only movement that we, as a whole, plan on making is a movement for change. Where are all the teachers of color? Why is it that my son cannot look at his teacher and see a future for himself, an example of what he wants to become?” said Harper, who is black.
Harper said she expected to hear back last week from Superintendent Raul Maldonado with an answer for the investigation.
“We have heard nothing,” Harper said.
Reached after the press conference, Maldonado said he could not talk about the investigation because it is ongoing.
“There are some new developments, but officially I can’t talk about them,” Maldonado said.
Maldonado added they are following the letter of the law and asked for the public’s patience.
“We are not happy with the picture, as I stated before. I’m appalled about it,” Maldonado said, adding the District has high
Brandts and the teachers are still with the District, Maldonado confirmed. However, if and when they do return to work, it will not be at Summerwind Elementary.
Maldonado said the District is working as fast as it can.
“There’s a lot of different factors that go into play … We want to do everything by the book,” Maldonado said, adding that mistakes can be costly.
Summerwind parent and community leader Breyon Clemmons called for an unbiased investigation.
“We want an investigation to come from someone who is not in the District. We want this investigation to be fair for the parents, the community and our kids,” Clemmons said.
Clemmons added she did not want to hear excuses about the noose being used in a joking matter.
“Things of racial issues are not a joke. They’re not a prank to us,” Clemmons said.
Community activist Miguel Coronado said he does not believe the teachers in the picture have malice and hatred in their heart for black or brown people.
“They just have a deep ignorance, stupidity, and they obviously had a mental breakdown,” Coronado said. Coronado added one of the teachers in the picture taught his niece in second grade last year.
“She was a magnificent teacher, and I can tell you that I don’t think she’s racist. But her actions, along with the other teachers’, are inexcusable. And it is not OK when you’re teaching predominantly black or brown pupils,” Coronado said.
Pharaoh Mitchell, co-founder of the Community Action League, disagreed.
“There’s no excuse for having a noose. Our children, our ancestors, were hung with these nooses. We’re still being hung to this day with these nooses. It was totally disrespectful to our community. What these teachers did was totally disrespectful. What the school district did was totally disrespectful to the community. And we as a community are standing up and saying ‘no more,’” Mitchell said.