By Paloma Esquivel, Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — A California charter school teacher has been placed on leave after allegedly singling out an African-American student to demonstrate a hanging during a class trip.
Scharrell Jackson says a teacher at Oxford Preparatory Academy in Mission Viejo volunteered her 14-year-old son, the only African-American in his class, to participate in a simulated hanging during a living history field trip about the Civil War.
“I don’t think any child, especially an African-American child, given our heritage … should be called to participate in that,” Jackson said.
“If a child chooses to participate, so be it. But my child did not make that choice.”
Keith Fink, the attorney for the Orange County school, said the teacher was placed on leave, and an investigation was conducted and is now complete. He declined to say whether the teacher would return to the job, saying only that another instructor is now in the classroom and that “the school year is almost over.”
“A field trip that was designed with the best of intentions to educate the students about a very important period in U.S. History is being falsely turned into some sort of racial event,” Fink said in an email.
“You can ask any of the students that were on the field trip, the parent chaperons or the employee from Riley’s Farm — all will tell you that the student was not asked to do this.”
James Riley, chief executive of Riley’s Farm in Yucaipa, Calif., where the school field trip took place, said in a statement that the demonstration was about military discipline and the punishment soldiers faced for desertion. During the session, a historian asked the teacher to pick children to participate “who like drama and who can speak before a group of people.”
During the demonstration, the historian holds a noose as a prop.
“It is NEVER put over a child’s head,” the statement said. “We understand, of course, that certain images (the Confederate States flag and uniform, for example) can be seen as offensive to some groups. However, there is simply no way to conduct a living history teaching experience without using the clothing and props of the era.”
Jackson said whether the noose was placed over her son’s head is beside the point.
“I think that particular station and them having a child put their head in the noose, whether they put it in there or not is irrelevant, the bottom line is to have an African-American boy stand up there … lacks judgment. Period,” she said.
Jackson said she learned about the incident the day after the late April field trip, when her son did not want to go to school and said he did not believe his teacher liked him. She said the alleged incident is not the first time her son has been subjected to racial insensitivity from the teacher.
Jackson took her concerns to the Orange County Human Relations Commission, whose members are appointed by the Board of Supervisors and OC League of Cities to deal with issues of prejudice and discrimination in the county. Executive Director Rusty Kennedy met with Jackson and the school’s principal the day after the incident.
The noose is particularly fraught as a symbol of hate toward African Americans, Kennedy said. “To use them lightly, make fun of them, we all need to know better than that.
“Only 2% of the population in Orange County is African American. There needs to be some awareness,” he said.
Jackson said the school should have handled her concerns with more sensitivity. She initially complained to the school’s principal the day after the incident, but the teacher was not placed on leave until she reached out to representatives of the Capistrano Unified School District, which approves charter schools to operate in the district, she said.
“The educational institution is supposed to be a place where not only children go to learn but they are supposed to be able to build their self-esteem, to build their character,” Jackson said.
Fink, the school’s attorney, said the incident has been blown out of proportion.
“The mother who was not present at the event has made numerous false statements to the media,” he said in an email. “The whole issue her(e) should be a non issue. Field trips are wonderful outings where all students have the ability for a culturally enriching experience.”