An Arizona mother is speaking out after she claims her 9-year-old son was paraded through class as his teachers and classmates yelled at, humiliated and berated him during a lesson on school segregation and the civil rights movement.
Claudia Rodriguez posted on Facebook that her child, who is Black, was singled out at BASIS Phoenix Central charter and made to walk across the classroom as two teachers and 27 other third-grade students yelled insults at him.
The exercise was reportedly part of a lesson teaching kids about the civil rights era and the Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American students who suffered both verbal and physical abuse after enrolling in Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas in 1957. They were among the first African-American students to attend desegregated schools after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954.
Rodriguez was less than thrilled about the reenactment, however.
“The Head of School had the nerve to tell me there was some educational value in this incident because it started conversations in the homes of the other kids, AT THE EXPENSE OF MY CHILD’S EMOTIONAL WELL BEING!” she opined. “I felt the need to speak up so that no other child ever has to feel what my son felt.”
Phil Handler, a spokesman for BASIS, seemed to downplay in the incident, telling the Arizona Republic that the boy “was fine” and that the entire class “thought it was a pretty good lesson.” In fact, he said it was Rodriguez’s son who volunteered to represent the Little Rock Nine in the demonstration.
The teachers made sure no racist or derogatory language was used during the lesson, Handler told the newspaper, adding that students of other races also volunteered to be at the receiving end of the fake harassment.
“I have never heard of anybody complaining about learning about the civil-rights movement,” said Handler. “From time to time parents get upset, and we’re sorry it happened.”
Parent Vinita Bhatnagar, who is Indian, said the lesson was a positive learning experience for her daughter and nothing like what Rodriguez described.
“She came home and told me how important it is to treat other people with kindness and not to discriminate,” Bhatnagar told The Arizona Republic. “She had absolutely nothing negative to say about it. I do not believe that it was out of line in any way.”
The head of BASIS Phoenix Central also characterized the exercise as a one that helped students “live in that history” for a brief moment, giving them a glimpse into what it was like at that time. Principal Rosalind Thompson has lived through segregation herself and said, as a Black woman, she would never discriminate against her own Black students.
“I am sorry that … (the) lesson was offensive to some of you — we won’t repeat it,” Thompson wrote in a letter to parents last week. “But in today’s environment, I think it helped the children to ‘live’ that history for a brief moment and hopefully assure that they never have to live it in real life as I did.”
Still, Rodriguez was infuriated by the exercise, and she wasn’t alone. Other concerned parents questioned why teachers didn’t chose a different method for the lesson and argued that a Powerpoint or video presentation would’ve sufficed. Rodriguez claimed she wasn’t even aware of what happened to her son until another parent contacted her.
“To choose a child and have him experience physical feel hate is a gross incompetence and negligent decision on 1-2 member of staff,” a parent wrote in a letter shared by Rodriguez on Facebook. “Whether or not this was intent or pure negligence, I did expect better.”
“This is a real subject that is a big part of our past and unfortunately [our] present,” the parent continued. “How it’s delivered is important.”
Rodriguez said she has since met with local community leaders and also filed a complaint with the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools.
“This woman should not be teaching kids, she has no business in a classroom if she thinks it’s OK to do this to a child,” she wrote in her Facebook post.
Rodriguez said that while what happened to her son can’t be undone, she is working to ensure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.