Virtual classes exposing teacher’s racist remarks and bias, experts say

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When the coronavirus pandemic forced school systems to shift to virtual classrooms, an issue that was always there bur not as able to be documented was revealed. Teachers have been exposed for making racist remarks and for racial and cultural bias during digital learning after making side remarks believing their cameras were off or microphones were muted.

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According to NBC News, educators have been forced to resign, apologize, or have been fired.  Raechele Pope, chief diversity officer for the University of Buffalo’s Graduate School of Education says the Zoom mishaps are only proof of a long-existing problem.

“The pandemic, I don’t believe, is bringing this out,” Pope said. “The pandemic is bringing a lot of other things but we started to see it beforehand because cellphones have been so ubiquitous. And so someone pulls up a cellphone and captures a conversation people wouldn’t believe was happening before no matter how many times we told them it was happening.”

A student raises his hand while attending an online class from home in Miami, Florida, U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. Photographer: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“I think training is important. I know a lot of people are saying, ‘Let’s not do training. It doesn’t do anything.’ Well, it doesn’t do anything because there’s nothing sustained,” she added. “If I went out and ran one mile and said, ‘There’s my exercise for the year,’ it’s not going to do anything to improve my health. So neither is a single training or even training once a year. What would help is a more systematic approach.”

In some instances, beyond termination or resignation, families have taken a legal route. As theGrio reported, the Palmdale School District is facing a lawsuit by the mother of a Black sixth-grader over a teacher’s racist rant that was recorded over Zoom. The child attends Desert Willow Fine Arts, Science and Technology Magnet Academy in Palmdale, Calif. His mother, Katura Stokes, said her son was struggling with transitioning to online learning amid the pandemic, and couldn’t access the virtual platform to complete class assignments.

According to her complaint, administrators told her to follow up with the boy’s teacher, who scheduled a Zoom call with Stokes and her son on Jan. 20. The virtual conference ended with the science instructor, identified in the complaint as Kimberly Newman, assuring Stokes’ son that he was caught up with all his assignments.

Pre-K teacher Sarah McCarthy works with a student at Dawes Elementary in Chicago. (Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, Pool, File)

Newman failed to sign off after their Zoom session ended and Stokes was stunned when she exploded in a “racist, inflammatory rant” about the boy and his mother. Stokes recorded the disparaging comments for more than a half-hour because she figured no one would believe her, the complaint states.

“You’ve taught him to make excuses that nothing is his fault,” she ranted. “This is what Black people do, this is what Black people do. White people do it too, but Black people do it way more.”

Newman initially denied making profane comments — until she saw the Zoom footage. The educator was placed on administrative leave and resigned three days later.

 Technical difficulties and racist teachers are only two of several issues plaguing the education system during the pandemic. According to the Washington Post, multiple school districts recorded an increase in failing grades during the fall 2020 semester. Minority students and those in high-poverty communities fell further behind their peers, the outlet reported. Data revealed remote learning set white students back by one to three months in math, while students of color lost three to five months.

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‘I think we should be very concerned about the risk of a lost generation of students,” said former education secretary John B. King Jr. He is now President of Education Trust, a group that advocates for the high academic achievement of all students — particularly those of color or living in poverty.

This article contains additional reporting from theGrio’s Ny Magee.

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