The superintendent of the Folsom Cordova Unified School District posted an apology on Facebook on Friday in response to lynching comments a middle school history teacher made to students in November.
Deborah Bettencourt’s post came a day after the Sacramento chapter of a social justice group, Showing Up for Racial Justice, demanded an apology from Sutter Middle School teacher Woody Hart before Thursday night’s district board meeting. Activists also called for greater district transparency when it responds to such episodes and for offenders to be held accountable.
Hart told his eighth-grade class on Nov. 2 during a discussion of the U.S. Constitution, “When you hang one black person, you have to hang them all (as) that is equality.” He later was apologetic in an interview with The Sacramento Bee, saying he was trying to make an academic point and had spent much of the year teaching about racial equality.
An African American student and his family filed a complaint with the district after the remarks.
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Board President Zak Ford voiced outrage during the meeting over the teacher’s statement, calling it “very inappropriate and flat-out stupid.” Ford apologized on behalf of the school, the district and the trustees. “Those forms of comments have no place in our schools,” he said. “We cannot have and we cannot tolerate behavior that makes our students feel unsafe.”
Bettencourt, in her post on Friday, said that the events created difficult but necessary conversations in the district. The district also emailed her remarks to 20,000 families in the district and 2,000 staff.
“For those that did not hear our Board of Education president last night, I want to first echo Mr. Ford’s remarks about the inappropriate analogy made by one of our teachers, an incident that has been highlighted in recent news coverage: Put simply, it was wrong, and we are sorry,” Bettencourt said in the post. “Racist statements – or any behavior that makes a student feel unsafe or singled out – have no place in our schools.”
She said she was proud of the work that school officials and families have done to create safe, inclusive learning environments. But she posed questions about the work ahead. The district will rise to the challenge, she said, “But can we also identify weaknesses in our system to better prevent something like this?
“In what ways can we make our teaching and leadership practices more culturally responsive? Are there barriers to closing the achievement gap that we have yet to examine?”
She asked for community input for answers, and included her email address. “We are not a school district that shies away from the hard work needed to best serve our students,” she said.
Shortly before the board meeting, Racial Justice member Jenine Spotnitz told reporters that her group’s members also hope to create a coalition of community members to address issues like the lynching comment.
In his interview with The Bee, Hart vowed never to use the equality analogy involving lynching again. The school responded to his remark by crafting remedial action for Hart, saying he must use examples that eighth-graders can understand and avoid stereotypes or culturally insensitive language.