May 26, 2017; Washington Post
Educators have a responsibility to embody excellence not only in education, but in behavior as well. As the school year draws to a close, it is common for teachers and students to have end-of-the-year celebrations, awards, and even superlatives. But unfortunately, there seems to be an uptick in bullying not by students, but by educators.
This year, one 7th grader, Lizeth Villanueva, was shocked when her teachers from Aguirre Junior High (AJH) in Texas gave her the “most likely to become a terrorist” award. The certificate came one day after the Manchester terror attack in England. Other awards to other students included “most likely to become homeless in Guatemala” and “most likely to blend in with white people.” Students reported that teachers were laughing when the awards were being handed out.
Despite apologies from the Aguirre administration, parents of students are upset. Administrators of AJH have not released the name of the teacher involved but have indicated that there the teacher is being disciplined according to the district policy.
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The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) indicated that “Donald Trump is having a major impact on American schools, but how students are affected—and how educators are addressing the impact—depends largely on demographics.” SPLC’s study found that how a school reacted to an incident ultimately depended on whether it is a white-majority school, a “minority-majority” school, or a diverse school with no single group in the majority. The student population statistics at AJH indicates that 76 percent of the students are Hispanic and 6.9 percent are White. The demographics of the teachers at AJH are not mentioned.
In April, two Louisiana teachers were accused of bullying an 11-year old girl, telling her to “go kill herself” and threatening to fail other students if they didn’t fight the girl. Once one teacher was removed from the classroom, a second teacher allegedly kept up the abuse. More recently, a similar award ceremony took place at Memorial Middle School in Conyers, Georgia. A teacher gave a 14-year-old girl with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder a trophy inscribed with the words, “Most Likely to Not Pay Attention.”
A study compiled by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) indicated that 20 percent of Muslim students say they have experienced discrimination by a school staff member, the very people charged with protecting them from this type of hate.
When teachers decide to bully, there is a significant breakdown in the ability of a school to fulfill its mission of educating and protecting students. School districts need to pay more attention to the teachers’ role in creating a positive environment for the students and set a zero-tolerance policy for such behavior.—Suja S. Amir