A Black teacher is facing heat for calling high school students at Manhattan’s Beacon High School to protest racism on the elite campus. According to the New York Post, the demand came after an incident involving a white Jewish girl elevated accusations of a racist school environment.
“What we’re asking of all students: Do not come to school that day to show solidarity for the support of not just students of color but all students at Beacon in providing a safe space,” said the science teacher Demetrius Green in front of hundreds of teens at Friday’s energetic cafeteria gathering, which was videotaped. “Until the demands are met, students are not to return to school.”
Instead of a walk out, one student suggested kids wear black and to put tape over their faces. However, the teacher asked, “What is that going to do? Students before you, before I, have done the same thing, and nothing has happened.” On December 2, around 300 students walked out the high-performing Hell’s Kitchen school for 40 minutes to call out admission criteria they say limit integration. The racial makeup of the school is 47 percent white, 20 percent Hispanic, 14 percent Black, 9 percent Asian and 10 percent “other.”
Friday’s protest was sparked by “racist remarks” a Black student says he overheard a white Jewish girl make in a confidential Tuesday meeting with two white Jewish guidance counselors. The girl spoke to The Post and said that she was seeking help for her own higher education plan at the time. She was disappointed that she was put on a waitlist at a top university. She and the counselors were looking over Scattergrams, or charts on admission data, revealing that some students with less academic qualifications than she were getting accepted, says the Jewish teen. The counselors also mentioned scholarship programs for people of color such as Posse and QuestBridge.
“The context of my private conversation included my disapproval about the unfairness of students who were accepted to college without meeting the rigorous criteria that I and others worked so hard to achieve, because they might be athletes, afforded financial scholarships, and/or get seats based on affirmative action programs, as opposed to academic achievement as the first and only criteria,” the girl said.
The Black student allegedly stormed into the meeting to scold the girl and her counselors. As word got around, the girl says she became the target of criticism and in some instances threats. One Instagram post read, “As a proud future QuestBridge scholar, let me tell you something about myself: I deserve it. If you got rejected from a school you wanted to attend, do not bash other people who have worked hard their entire lives and were not born with silver spoons in their mouths.”
The Jewish girl argued that some students twisted her words out of context. At one point, she said one of her teachers berated her, saying, “People are going to hate you because you’re Jewish,” and “You don’t understand your privilege.”
Green’s call for a boycott definitely didn’t sit well for some parents and students. The city Department of Education, United Federation of Teachers and the Special Commissioner of Investigation for city schools reportedly received verbal and written complaints about Green’s actions. Folks accused him of inflaming racial tensions by persuading students to be insubordinate and to violate DOE attendance and safety regulations.
Even if some students didn’t agree with Mr. Green’s method of protest, it seems many did agree with the racial insensitivity on campus. “This isn’t the first incident at Beacon that has involved racist rhetoric,” one student said during the Friday cafeteria rally. He listed classroom discussions on slavery and use of the N-word as a few examples.
“We have a college office of counselors that look nothing like the student body” and who tell Black students, for example, “to limit themselves by only applying to state schools,’’ the teen continued. He also said that the administration has yet to apologize for the white girl’s comments. “Here we are three days later, and kids of color have not received an acknowledgment about the situation,” he said.
Some students posted a list of “Official Demands” on Sunday, including a call for Beacon to publicly apologize for “allowing racism to fester” for years.” They also called for “probes of the guidance counselors” who chatted with the white girl, mandated workshops on “implicit bias” for staff and students, and assurance that faculty hiring “mirrors the diversity” of New York City students. They also demanded that students who were involved with the boycott or sit-in “will not face any repercussions.”
Beacon principal Ruth Lacey emailed students on Sunday saying she was “moved by the passion’’ of the cafeteria speakers. She continued, “I understand that some students will be continuing to demonstrate the seriousness of these issues throughout Monday,” and she invited students to a discussion after school on Tuesday.
The DOE explained that they will investigate the “reports of bullying and staff misconduct,” including accusations against Green.