PALMDALE, Calif. (KTLA) – A Black family has filed a claim against a Southern California school district, alleging a teacher went on a racist rant about them on Zoom earlier this year, apparently not knowing they were still listening.
Katura Stokes filed the claim, a precursor to filing a lawsuit, on behalf of her 12-year-old son, an unnamed sixth grader at Desert Willow Fine Arts, Science and Technology Magnet Academy. The school is part of the Palmdale School District. Palmdale is about 35 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.
The family had reached out to the teacher for help in January, when the boy had trouble connecting to the school’s online platform while struggling with remote learning. They were told to join Zoom “office hours,” and ended up speaking with science teacher Kimberly Newman, according to the claim.
After they talked, the mother was still on the call when the teacher did not exit the Zoom session and “proceeded to engage in a racist, inflammatory rant about (the boy) and his mother for over 30 minutes,” the family’s attorneys said.
The mother started to record the call with her cellphone as the teacher continued.
Videos of the Zoom call shared by the attorneys show a woman they identified as the teacher using profanity as she rants about the mother and her child.
“His parents, that’s what kind of pieces of s— they are. Black. He’s Black. They’re a Black family,” she’s heard saying at one point.
“Your son has learned to lie to everybody and make excuses … that nothing is his fault. This is what Black people do. This is what Black people do. White people do it too but Black people do it way more,” she continues.
The mother called the principal during the call, and put him on speaker phone, according to attorney Neil Gehlawat.
“Unbelievably, at some point, one staff person from the school calls the teacher, towards the end of the Zoom call, and says, ‘You know there’s a parent that’s been recording this? Have you been making obscenities and profanities and saying these things about a student?’ And she denies it. She denies it all together and then she exits out of the Zoom call,” Gehlawat told KTLA.
The Palmdale School District held a news conference to address the racist call in February, according to district officials.
District spokesman David Garcia called the behavior “gross, professional misconduct of a now former Palmdale teacher,” the Antelope Valley Press reported.
The principal immediately called the district office after the mother called him, and the teacher was placed on administrative leave and later resigned, according to Garcia. He also said that the district apologized to the family and offered counseling to the parent and the student.
“I’m here to tell you that this school Board, this District, and this community will not tolerate this behavior,” Palmdale School District Board President Ralph Velador said, according to the newspaper.
The family was left shaken after the call.
“The horrible comments the teacher made in the video are truly heartbreaking for a mother to hear and for her young son to hear,” said attorney John C. Taylor. “It’s unthinkable that an educator would mock and belittle this family, and there is no doubt that this incident has scarred them. All children are entitled to receive an educational experience free of discrimination and this video has demonstrated what minority students often face behind the scenes today.”
Gehlawat said what happens shows how students of color see unequal educational experiences.
“Like many parents whose children have struggled to transition to online schooling during the pandemic, Ms. Stokes reached out for help – and in return, she discovered that her son was being treated unfairly because of the color of his skin,” Gehlawat said.