California school board votes to fire teacher who impersonated Native Americans in viral video

The Riverside School Board voted to fire the North High School math teacher who was filmed in October donning a fake Native American headdress and dancing around his class in a cellphone video that went viral, a confirmed a source within the Riverside Unified School District.

At the Thursday, Feb. 3, board meeting, school board president Brent Lee reported that the board voted behind closed doors to approve “termination charges” against a graduating employee. He identified this employee by number only, as people in the audience cheered.

The vote was 4-1, with Lee and administrators Kathy Allavie, Angelo Farooq and Tom Hunt voting yes. Board member Dale Kinnear, former principal of North High, voted no.

The source confirmed that the employee involved in the vote was the North High math teacher, who was placed on paid administrative leave after the video went viral.

District spokeswoman Diana Meza said Thursday afternoon before the meeting that the teacher was still on paid leave. On Friday, February 4, Meza said the teacher was on unpaid leave.

The district did not name the teacher, and Meza on Friday declined to identify her.

In a text message statement, Meza wrote that “teacher discipline cases are initiated by the school board in sessions closed to the public….” names are not used – reports are made using employee numbers.

Such actions trigger a disciplinary process that “is often lengthy,” Meza wrote, saying the procedure is designed to protect privacy and an employee’s right to be heard and to appeal a decision.

“We understand that there is a public interest in any action that may be taken regarding teacher discipline, but the district must follow legal process and is unable to release information about specific cases,” he said. she writes.

The video sparked widespread anger in Native American communities and drew widespread criticism, with many calling the classroom action racially insensitive and a mockery of Native American culture.

In the video, the teacher appeared to share the word “SohCahToa”, a mnemonic device used to help students remember advanced math concepts.

At the beginning of the video, the teacher asks the students: “I don’t know? Tomahawks? Is that okay?” while moving both arms up and down, as if cutting something. She dances to the front of the class, as some students laugh, repeatedly chanting “SohCahToa.”

Some came to the teacher’s defense, saying she meant no harm and was trying to help students learn.

The California Mathematics Council, however, said in a statement that it was “horrified” that the teacher appeared to be “appropriating Native American culture in a disgusting attempt to teach math.”

“We understand that teachers can use the mnemonic device, Soh-Cah-Toa, to help students remember trigonometric ratios,” the board wrote. “However, it is NEVER appropriate to invent or perpetuate stories that disrespect and appropriate a culture or community.” The board said the “pattern of behavior” inflicts violence on Native American students and reinforces “negative stereotypes that are just plain wrong.”

In the weeks that followed, district officials announced plans to expand diversity, equity and inclusion training and take steps to ensure events such as Thanksgiving are taught in the classroom. in their specific historical context. In November, the district brought in local Native American leaders to share ideas on how the district can teach more sensitively and engage Native American students.

Dee Dee Ybarra, director of the American Indian Movement SoCal and Pomona resident, has been following the discussion since the video exploded on the internet. She and others attended Thursday’s board meeting.

Convinced the decision implicated the North High teacher, Ybarra said she and others praised the administrators for their decision during a public comment period.

“We all cheered,” Ybarra said on Friday.

“I’m really glad they listened to us,” she said. “We have been here since day one. We asked for this.

Ybarra said the teacher “must have known that was offensive,” especially given the widespread discussion of racial sensitivity following the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, which has sparked nationwide protests. Ybarra called the class action “totally bogus.”

During the meeting, Ybarra told council members that voting must be a tough decision.

“I know there will most likely be a call,” Ybarra said, according to videotape of the meeting. “And I hope that decision will stand.”

She added: “This cannot end. We have a lot of cleaning to do and, if you wish, we can provide you with the brooms, sweep these schools, make them nice and clean… This will no longer be tolerated.

Nohemi M. Moore