Education

Teacher faces complaint for using lynching analogy during lesson

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The family of a black Folsom student filed a complaint this month after a Sutter Middle School history teacher used a lynching analogy to define how states treat individuals under the U.S. Constitution.

The teacher, Woody Hart, told his eighth-grade class, “When you hang one black person, you have to hang them all (as) that is equality,” according to a complaint filed by the family of Tyler McIntyre, 13.

Tyrie McIntyre said the Nov. 2 episode involving his son occurred during class discussion of a test on the U.S. Constitution. During the lesson, one student asked for a definition of equality, prompting a discussion and the analogy.

As one of only a handful of black students in the class and school, Tyler McIntyre was embarrassed, his dad said.

“He thought everyone turned around and looked at him,” McIntyre said. “The night that it happened, he refused to go to football practice. We talked about it the next day, and he went to school.”

Hart, 70, was apologetic in an interview Monday. He said he made the comparison because he was trying to make the discussion “interesting” and express something that would catch students’ attention.

In that particular instance, he was trying to make an academic argument that states have to treat individuals from outside of a state the same way it treats its own residents.

“I would not accept equality as an answer” to the test question, he said. “Here’s what I said: ‘If you hang black people in the South, that means that you hang any black person who comes from outside the state.’ 

He said he has spent much of the year teaching his students about racial equality.

The family contacted school administrators and the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, filed the complaint and asked that Tyler be placed in another class. The complaint was first reported Monday by The Sacramento Observer.

“He has asked several times to be removed from the class,” McIntyre said. “I refused, (telling him) ‘I can’t remove you out of every class where a teacher says something you don’t like.’ 

But the lynching comment, which the teacher acknowledged making, prompted him to act. Tyler is no longer in Hart’s class.

In the school’s formal response, Principal Keri Phillips said she interviewed six students chosen at random. She found that Hart did refer to “hanging all blacks” as an example of how states treated individuals under the Constitution. She said one student recalled the lynching mention, while the the other five “did not recall any discussion regarding hanging or lynching as a point of reference or in an example.”

The school district redacted Hart’s name, but he acknowledged he was the teacher involved.

Phillips outlined remedial action for Hart, saying he will use examples at a level that eighth graders can understand. Hart must also avoid stereotypes or culturally insensitive language and rely on “very simple analogies that do not focus on the controversy” during lessons involving challenging material.

McIntyre said after the experience that he remained dissatisfied but that he wants to allow his son to move on with his school life. He said Hart’s context for his lynching analogy made no difference to him.

“My issue wasn’t the context,” he said. “It was the content. There was no way to justify the statement that he made.”

“I can’t say what they should have done,” McIntyre said. “I just felt like there should have been, I don’t know what, but basically more than just sending me a letter.”

Asked what he discerned from the experience, Hart said he will never use the analogy again and be more clear. “And I would probably use traffic fines as an example” when teaching about the Constitution.

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