PALMDALE — The image of three Summerwind Elementary School teachers smiling and pointing at a noose held up by a fourth smiling teacher sparked outrage by the school’s parents and community activists who called for the quartet to be fired along with Principal Linda Brandts.
Though the circumstances surrounding the photo are not clear, parents and community members seem to think it was racially motivated.
Palmdale School District Superintendent Raul Maldonado said that the fact that the photo lacks context will be part of the investigation.
“We are disgusted. Absolutely disgusted,” parent Breyon Clemmons said. “We drop our kids off with the idea that we are sending them to a culturally competent institution for learning. We think that we’re sending them to a school; they’re safe. Never do we think we’re sending them to a plantation where they got nooses hanging up, and holding on to nooses. Taking pictures and smiling, where’s the humor?”
The picture, which lacks any caption or explanation, was reportedly taken last week. Some media reports said Brandts allegedly shared the photo in a mass email. That could not be confirmed, nor was it clear with whom the email was shared. There was another picture of a noose hanging on the end of a wall.
Palmdale School District administrators announced late Wednesday night, that Brandts had been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into the matter. By Thursday morning, the four first-grade teachers in the picture were also placed on administrative leave.
“As soon as we found out we started the investigation because we are concerned, ourselves,” Maldonado said. “We hold employees to the highest standards and want to make sure that they know what our expectations are.”
Maldonado said he and the District’s governing Board will conduct a thorough investigation.
“We will then take action … but right now we’re still trying to find out what happened,” he said. “We don’t tolerate this type of behavior, but at this point we don’t know what really happened. Until the investigation occurs and we have the findings, we’ll take action after that.”
Brandts could not be reached for comment.
According to Clemmons, a concerned staff member shared the photos with the District office last week. When nothing happened, the staff member shared it with the news media.
Clemmons kept her 10-year-old daughter Camille Boyd out of school on Thursday.
Camille, who is the fourth grade, said she had good days and bad days at school, but now she does not want to return.
“I don’t want to come to school because I feel like they’re going to hurt me or do something with the noose that they’re not supposed to do,” Camille said.
Clemmons said when the parents arrived at Summerwind in the morning, Brandts was not there, but the four teachers were there in class, ready to start school.
“The parents, we rallied together,” Clemmons said. “We said none of our students will go inside of those classrooms until those teachers walk out of here.”
The teachers were sent home.
Clemmons remained at the school to support other black parents as they pulled their students out.
“We’ve got to support each other as black parents,” Clemmons said. “This was an absolute slap in the face. Nothing was funny about it. I found no humor in it.”
Clemmons is considering whether to pull her daughter out of the school and enroll her in charter school.
Parent Tierra Harris also kept her eight-year-old daughter T’Anah out of school Thursday. Harris said she was mad and disgusted when she learned about the photo.
“We send our kids here to school to get educated and we trust the teachers and want them to feel safe,” she said. “When you get a picture like that you don’t trust the school. You don’t want your kid coming back here. It shows what they think about us. Even if it was a joke and it wasn’t supposed to surface and it did, it backfired. You’re not supposed to be joking about stuff like that. Because still to this day it happens.”
Harris added Brandts and the teachers in the photo should be fired.
“What the picture shows, it shows what they think,” Harris said. “They should not be working here. I don’t want my daughter coming back here.”
Littlerock Town Council member Waunette Cullors came out to Summerwind on Thursday for a press conference organized by activists.
“As a community leader we’re outraged by this,” Cullors said. “This is one of the reasons why people leave the school district. When you can’t even feel safe at your own school and you don’t feel wanted, how can you look up to this principal as someone you admire at this point?”
Bishop Henry Hearns, who was born and raised on a plantation in Mississippi, expressed hope that Maldonado will take drastic action to remove Brandts and the teachers from the school.
“Even if it was a prank, it does not belong in our school system,” Hearns said. “We’re doing everything that we can to prop up our kids so that they can feel safe and be in a learning environment.”
Community activist Ansar “Stan” Muhammad said the incident could be a teaching moment.
“My biggest concern is where do we go from here? he said. “How do we address this; how do we create a teaching moment to begin to educate not only the teachers, but all the administrators throughout the Valley? Because in my humble opinion, I don’t think this is a broad situation. It think it’s isolated.”
Muhammad added he would like to meet the teachers in the photo to ask them why they would do something like that.
“What was your motive?” he said, adding he was upset over the picture. “What was your intent?”
Community activist Miguel Coronado, whose wife works for the District, said he couldn’t believe it when he saw the picture.
“I can’t believe in 2019 our moral people will think that it’s OK to get together in the teachers’ lounge and pose for a racist picture,” Coronado said.