PALMDALE — Civil rights activist Najee Ali disputed the findings of an investigation that found an ill-advised attempt at an end-of-the-year joke, and not racial animus, was a motivating factor when four Summerwind Elementary School first grade teachers posed for a picture with a noose that was taken by their former principal.
“As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t over with,” Ali said Monday in a telephone interview.
He called for a further investigation by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.
“It’s hard for me to believe that out of the four teachers and one principal who were investigated, that not one of them understood the horrible, racial implications on what the noose means for African Americans, historically,” Ali said.
He deemed it disingenuous for the investigators to allow the educators to proceed with the narrative that they did not know the historical significance of the noose.
“I think at the end of the day, we need to have an outside department look into investigating this further to really have the entire truth come out,” Ali said.
He added having a law firm selected by the Palmdale School District conduct the investigation is similar to having the fox watch the hen house.
“I’m not surprised at all by the findings,” Ali, who called the report a “whitewash,” said.
The 36-page report included a timeline of the events that led to the photo.
One of the teachers reportedly found the noose in a box when the four educators were cleaning out an unused classroom that had served as a storage room.
The unnamed teacher brought the noose with her to the teachers’ lounge. She showed the noose to former principal Linda Brandts and repeated their end-of-the-year “hang in there” jokes with the principal.
Brandts took a photo of the quartet with the noose, at the suggestion of the teacher who found it. The teacher, using Brandts’ phone and with her permission, then emailed the picture to all school staff.
The photo made it to social media where it went viral. The picture, and a second one of the noose hanging on a wall, prompted protest by parents and community members.
“Parents demanded answers and some even sought to personally confront the first grade teachers,” the report said.
Other parents were upset that Summerwind Elementary was once again the subject of a controversy covered by the media.
Summerwind Elementary was previously the focus of national media reports after the 2013 murder of former Summerwind student 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez (the report incorrectly used the last name Hernandez).
One of the teachers in the noose picture previously taught Fernandez and testified at his murder trial. That led to speculation by some that the noose photo was somehow related to the conviction and sentencing of the defendants in Fernandez’s case. However, that proved to be false.
All five employees were placed on paid administrative leave after the photos became public. Brandts resigned from the District in July. The four teachers are still on administrative leave.
“The report validates the pain and the impact of these irresponsible actions,” Palmdale School District Superintendent Raul Maldonado said Friday. “This is not a reflection on our school District. It’s a reflection on these five individuals who made a stupid mistake, so we’re going to hold them accountable.”
The report will be forwarded to another legal team who will work on any potential charges for the teachers, Maldonado said.