Education

Folsom teacher who displayed Confederate flag in class retires

Racial justice group demands apology for Folsom teacher’s lynching remarks

Showing Up for Racial Justice member Jenine Spotnitz responds to a lynching comment made by Sutter Middle School teacher Woody Hart in November. She read a list of demands ahead of the Folsom Cordova Unified School District's board meeting Thursda
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Showing Up for Racial Justice member Jenine Spotnitz responds to a lynching comment made by Sutter Middle School teacher Woody Hart in November. She read a list of demands ahead of the Folsom Cordova Unified School District's board meeting Thursda

A teacher in the Folsom Cordova Unified School District who sparked criticism for an analogy involving lynching and displayed a Confederate flag in his classroom has retired, school officials said Thursday.

“He will not be returning to the classroom,” Zak Ford, the school board president, said at Thursday night’s board meeting, which was heavily attended by supporters and critics of Sutter Middle School teacher Woody Hart. Ford said the board had accepted Hart’s retirement.

The announcement was greeted with a mix of boos and cheers. One man in the audience yelled, “Coward.”

District officials said they were notified Tuesday thatHart had hung a Confederate flag in his classroom. The flag was across the room from a Civil War Union flag.

The flag, which was removed before class Wednesday, was potentially going to be used, along with the Union flag, for a history lesson, according to a district post on Facebook.

“We recognize that regardless of context, to many of our students, families, and staff, the Confederate flag is a racist symbol of hate,” said the district’s statement.

The family of a black Folsom student filed a complaint in November after the history teacher used a lynching analogy to explain how states treat individuals under the U.S. Constitution.

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.

Hart, 70, was apologetic in an interview after the hanging analogy became public. 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 instance, he was trying to make an academic argument that states have to treat individuals from outside a state the same way they treat their own residents.

The district superintendent posted an apology on Facebook in response to the lynching comments. 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 Hart before a district board meeting.

Board President 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.

In his interview with The Sacramento Bee, Hart vowed never to use the equality analogy involving lynching again. The school crafted remedial action for Hart, saying he must use examples that eighth-graders can understand and avoid stereotypes or culturally insensitive language.

When the use of the Confederate flag came to the attention of district officials this week, it was decided to place Hart on paid administrative leave while an investigation was conducted.

“Although this matter is under investigation, it is important to reiterate: Any employee who is found to engage in behavior that creates an unsafe environment for students will face full consequences, including the possibility of initiating termination proceedings,” stated the district’s Facebook post.

A lively discussion ensued online after the district’s Wednesday post with some supporting the teacher and others objecting to his bringing the Confederate flag to class:

“My son is in his class,” read a post from Tricia Spinks Jenkins. “First time he has been interested in history. Both flags were hanging in the class to represent the teams that students were assigned to, either from the North or the South. They are fully immersed in learning about the Civil War and they are competing for points to win a pizza party. Sounds like a teacher who knows how to get middle school students engaged and truly thinking about what they are learning.”

Another, from John Heinen, took an opposing view: “He should have been gone after original comment. No one said that history should be sanitized, but he lost benefit of the doubt after his definition of equality. The confederate flag is not part of my heritage. It is a symbol of racism that went away for the most part after the civil war and was brought back in the 1950’s to mobilize people as a symbol of the heritage that represented hate, Jim Crow, and segregation.”

Bill Lindelof: 916-321-1079, @Lindelofnews

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