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Teacher In Hot Water After Sending Student Home For Asking A Racist Question In Class

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Racism is on the forefront of American politics right now.  Across the country, major pushbacks have arisen to teaching “Critical Race Theory,” aka simple lessons on racism, in the classroom, especially in majority Republican areas.  This has caused somewhat of an all-out war between parents and educators.

Redditor ZealousPapaya found themselves on the front line of this war after imposing serious consequences on a student who made openly racist remarks in class.  As a young teacher, he was subjected to intimidation by some parents for his disciplinary action.

Needing to know if he was doing the right thing by sticking to his guns, he went to the popular subReddit “Am I The A**hole?” or “AITA” for feedback from objective strangers:

“AITA for sending a student home for racist remarks?”

Our original poster, or OP, described the awkward situation that lead to a student being sent home:

“I (22M[ale]) work in an alternative education setting, and we serve all grades 7-12. Due to low budgets and just general mismanagement at the admin level, this means we have several grades in the same rooms at the same time, so 12 year olds are often working along 16 and 17 year olds.”

“This will be important to remember later.”

“One of my younger students, a 7th grader, was working through his history class when he began the section on 9/11.”

“The student proceeded to say, in front of a class of 25, ‘how come we still let Muslims into the country after what they did?'”

“The entire class immediately went quiet, until one of my older students, a 12th grader who was born in Pakistan and moved here when he was 5, stood up and said, ‘what the f*** did you just say?'”

The teacher took immediate action:

“I immediately sent the 7th grader to the office to be sent home, and met individually with my older student one-on-one, basically reassuring him that his reaction was completely understandable and asked him if he needed a minute or two to breathe before coming back into class.”

“He said yes and took the next few minutes to relax in the cool-down room, a smaller room joined to my class that I let students use when they become incredibly stressed, it has a couple couches with a stack of blankets and pillows.”

“Sometimes kids use it for naps before school if it looks like they had a rough night.”

“Older student came back in around 10 minutes later, said thank you for letting him use the room, and got back to his work.”

Unfortunately, OP was soon accosted by the offending child’s parents:

“Things seemed pretty decent after that, I got word that the 7th grader was picked up by his parents, and no incidents occurred after this.”

“However, nearly 2 hours later, I received a call from the 7th grader’s parents, and had to hold the phone away from my ear as they began screaming at me for, ‘excluding their son just because someone got offended.'”

“I informed the parents that the student’s behavior violated the most basic rule of my classroom, which is common decency and respect, and that I did not tolerate racism or bigotry of any kind in my class.”

“I promptly ended the call, documented the conversation, and sent a note to my admin.”

“30 minutes later, I receive an email from my admin stating that the parents had lodged an official complaint against me, stating that I was excluding their son based on my own ‘political and social beliefs’ and that they expected an apology from not only me, but the ‘Muslim student who intimidated our child.'”

“My admin says I should have given the younger student a chance to sit outside of class and think about what he said, instead of immediately sending him home, and that he was just being young and naïve.”

“AITA for not giving the younger student a chance to think about what he did, instead of just immediately sending him out?”


Anonymous strangers weighed in by declaring:

  • NTA – Not The A**hole
  • YTA – You’re The A**hole
  • ESH – Everyone Sucks Here
  • NAH – No A**holes Here

Redditors by and large took OP’s side for protecting his student from open racism in the classroom.

“Kids don’t ‘work this out’ for themselves. They have been around people who have expressed this opinion loudly and repeatedly in their presence.”

“OP is a great example of the Paradox of Tolerance, by going easy on this student, he would have been telling him his behaviour is ok – at worst, say it quieter.”

“By cracking down hard he has told him it is not acceptable, no correspondence will be entered into.”

“The only thing I would suggest OP does differently is to talk to the whole class about the damage that racism and othering does.”

“Though this may need support from administration. It’s an opportunity for a teachable moment for the whole class, and not just the two students directly involved. NTA.”-Fraerie

“By 7th grade, I would hope that a student would be able to understand that ‘All the people who did this horrible thing were of X ethnicity’ does not imply ‘All people of X ethnicity do this horrible thing.'”

“Or to understand that group punishment is wrong. In this case, consider: The 12th grader confronted the 7th grader, and the 7th grader’s parents consider that intimidation.”

“But even the 7th grader’s outraged parents are not calling for the entire class to be punished for the 12th grader’s actions. NTA”-Lucia37

“NTA. This. As a teacher, this is the course of action. Your job was to de-escalate the situation, which you did.”

“Both students were able to calm down and you prevent a fight. There are such thing as teachable moments, racism and bigtory usually arent one of them since they are so ingrained.”

“Remove the students, let everyone calm down, allow students who can return to class to return. Your admin should have backed you.”-kfisch2014

“NTA, but if you truly want the 12 year old to think about it critically, punishment is not the solution. There are other ways to make it clear that what he said was hurtful and wrong.”

“Punishing him probably just made him double down on his beliefs. I am ashamed to admit that I once said something similar in a school classroom situation.”

“The teacher responded in a firm but caring way that allowed me the space to reconsider my un-empathetic illogic. It was a formative moment.”-jesskill

People praised OP’s no-tolerance policy toward racism.

“Hard NTA. Not a teacher, but I tutored (one-on-one and in-class) in college. Personally, I wouldn’t have sent the student home (partially because I never had that kind of power), but definitely would have reported them to whoever was next up on the food chain and then sent them out of the room if possible.”

“Trying to talk to them outside, or after class, would have probably been my only move, and might have given you a little more leeway when things inevitably go pear-shaped.”

“That said, no way parents like that weren’t going to get involved the next day, so any criticism of your handling is kinda moot.”

“The kid is being naïve, but he was also being a bigot, and that’s unacceptable.”

“Out of the classroom might mean that he’s not about to summon parents who are probably enablers at the very least; whereas sending him home guarantees that they come into it before the powers that be are notified.”

“As for apologies, if the admin wants me to apologize, well, I took writing classes to learn how to—among other things—craft non-apology apologies.”

“But there is no universe in which the other student apologizes, and I help facilitate it. I wouldn’t even mention it.”

“Note: my view is also probably skewed because I grew up in the area where I went to college, and had my own share of run-ins with xenophobes.”

“So, later, when I could, I often tried to let the students I worked with know that I’d go to bat for them if anything happened (usually making clear to them that missing class on Eid couldn’t be counted against their attendance grades and they could get it excused, but occasionally someone would be really nervous about something).”-_HalfBaked_

“NTA. Most people who are calling you YTA might not even belong to the group that faces racism daily or on regular basis. You took an action which was needed that time. This will make the people who face racism trust you and when they need help turn to you for guidance.”

“What you did was to make the older kid feel safe to turn to you instead of having their guards up all the time due to racism. The child’s parents are bigger AH and the child lied to his own parents about it.”

“While 12yr old are still growing and learning that doesn’t mean they can not be problematic. Also, since you took this action the other kids who promote racism because they picked up at home or at school would at least be mindful of their action.”

“I do feel that you and the admin need to have a proper talk with the 12yr old. It’s not political belief or personal belief it discriminates a person based on their sexuality, religion, ethnicity.”

“What many Redditors here who voted you as TA are forgetting is that a 15yr old kid is also a kid and they will also notice if their ill treatment is being called out or it’s being normalized.”-Connect_Peanut_7308

“NTA. You are teaching him that his actions have consequences. You have the right to say what you want but you have to deal with the consequences.”

“It doesn’t sound like he asked the question with the intent to learn but rather with malicious intent. And the parents reaction cements that for me.”-imnickiegurl

“Nta. When I was in elementary school, SARS had its peak. We had a student say ‘get away from me, I don’t want the disease you people brought to this country’ to one of our Korean students.”

“The student that made that comment was promptly sent to the office and sent home. I supported it then, and I support this now. Your admin should be defending you.”-pfurlan25

And furthermore, while some saw it as a teachable moment for the entire class, what OP did that was most important was keep the person who was hurt by the comment safe.

“NTA passive racism is still racism. Questioning an entire ethnic group’s intentions is racism. Sitting in a diverse class while internalizing disgust towards their heritage and or ethic group is racist.”

“Standing against racism doesn’t come with a diabolical politically driven agenda. Human rights and politics are not intrinsically intertwined.”-festystuff

“NTA. It’s pretty clear this kid isn’t going to respond to gentle attempts to redirect his energy. He’s being egged on by parents who hold the same worldview and are telling him he has the right to act like this without consequences.”

“You’re not likely to override that programming. He’s hearing one thing at home and another at school, and an insecure middle schooler is going to align himself with whoever has the most power to make his life worse. He has to live with those parents of his. You are temporary.”

“A sad case – but you have a whole classroom of students to consider, not just this kid. If he can’t bring himself to toe the line and treat the other students with baseline respect, he needs to leave.”

“Hopefully someone else in his life steps in before he becomes thoroughly entrenched in his hateful worldview.”-DiTrastevere

“Given the parents behaviour you have grounds to request this kid not be allowed in your classroom anymore given their history of behaviour that you outlined.”

“You handled this appropriately & compassionately. Maybe if a similar situation happens again you send them outside the classroom & after you’ve comforted any victims in the classroom you can go explain why what they said was wrong & give them a chance to apologise.”

“But in this case clearly the kids parents are sexist & racist & that’s where he’s picking it up and there are too many stories of teachers siding with the kids being racist instead of doing what you did & validating the other kids outrage.”

“You stood by your principles of no racism in the classroom & I’m proud of you, I wish I’d had a teacher like you when I was at school NTA × 1000”-excel_pager_03

“NTA. The most dangerous kinds of racists and bigots are the ones who ‘just ask questions’ and engage you in debates and conversations.”

“You may see through it as an adult and teacher but you’re protecting a room full of students who are still learning, forming their beliefs and opinions, and are potentially extremely vulnerable to hateful rhetoric and racist traps.”

“You’re also protecting your students from something further downwind – giving the opportunity for these ‘questions’ leaves room for these students to think they can get away with this.

“Pretty soon it’s less ‘questions’ and more violence and bullying of students that are vulnerable as minorities and targeted groups. Absolutely NTA. Give a racist an inch and they’ll take miles.”-simplygrimly

Racists are everywhere and bigotry most likely will never be fully exorcised from our communities, but we can continue to stand up to them, even in the classroom.

Hopefully OP will be rewarded for his behavior rather than punished.





Written by Mike Walsh

Mike is a writer, dancer, actor, and singer who recently graduated with his MFA from Columbia University. Mike's daily ambitions are to meet new dogs and make new puns on a daily basis. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @mikerowavables.