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Teacher suspended for ‘racially insensitive’ chemistry exam question

A chemistry teacher has been suspended for a test question which invoked George Floyd.

According to ARLnow.com, on a section seemingly about inert gases, the teacher at Arlington (Virginia) Public Schools’ H-B Woodlawn school wrote “George Floyd couldn’t breathe because a police officer put his _____ George’s neck.”

The correct answer is “neon,” as in “knee on.”

H-B Woodlawn is a “democratic alternative” 6-12 school where students are expected to follow its “three pillars”: “Caring Community, Self-Governance, and Self-Directed Learning.” Its student body is only 4.4 percent black.

A student snapped a photo of the (virtual) exam question, and according to the report, it “started circulating on social media” and parents began contacting the school.

One student (well-versed in critical race theory terminology) wrote on social media “There is no diversity in my school and apparently there was a bunch of white silence when this happened this morning. White students were making excuses or seemed ‘too tired to talk about it’ shame on those people that’s disgusting [sic].”

The student added the teacher “tried to pass [the question] off as something ‘everyone would know/easy to get.’”

The unnamed teacher was “relieved of classroom duties” pending an investigation.

From the story:

In a letter to families sent Wednesday, H-B’s principal said the secondary program — once known as “Hippie High” for its liberal approach to education — “does not tolerate any form of cultural or racial insensitivity.”

“We will be meeting directly with the students in the class, and will work with all of our H-B Woodlawn students to process the incident,” the letter goes on to say. “Our Student Services Team will be available for individual counseling and students can reach out directly to me as well.”

On Thursday, Superintendent Francisco Durán weighed in, with an email sent to all APS families.

“The content referenced the killing of George Floyd in an unacceptable and senseless way, which hurt and alarmed our students, staff, families, and the community,” Durán wrote. ‘The reference showed extremely poor judgement and a blatant disregard for African American lives.”

Durán’s email said the exam question “violates the core values of the school system and reinforces the importance of the work we have been doing, and must continue to do, to employ culturally responsive teaching practices and to combat systemic racism.”

Former US Department of Education official Hans Bader notes that while the teacher’s question indeed was “tone deaf,” it was not “an instance of bullying, nor did it endanger students’ safety, show a disregard for the sanctity of human life, or engage in racial discrimination.”

Further, it would be an unconstitutional act if the school were to fire the teacher … unless it previously made clear that the speech in question was prohibited (Bradley v. University of Pittsburgh, 1990).

Read the ARLnow.com and full Bader articles.

MORE: Law prof apologizes for ‘insensitive’ Ferguson-based exam question

MORE: Mexican-American students file complaints over ‘kangaroo’ exam question

IMAGE: Shuttestock.com

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 15 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.

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