A Lathrop High School teacher was recorded during an online class last week while offering a candid opinion about high profile police shootings, including the murder of George Floyd by a policeman, and telling students that it would be better to comply with law enforcement officers than to run or fight.
The teacher said that police departments need to do a better job of weeding out bad officers. She told students that some perpetrators of violence are non-white. She called people who wear their pants down around their knees thugs.
On YouTube, the video titled “Fairbanks Teacher — racist comments and interactions with students, staff, and family member” had more than 4,000 views as of Monday.
The teacher said: “So that’s my message to you, if any of you people, boys or girls, well there’s only one girl in here, so lady and gentlemen, if any of you ever find yourself in a situation where you are justly or unjustly being addressed by the police and ordered to do something, please comply. Do not fight with the cops. Don’t try to run away.”
Connie Gardner is a special education teacher. She was not immediately available for comment, according to a teacher union representative. The school district did not name her but people on the video referred to her as Ms. Gardner. The school directory shows Connie as the only Gardner at Lathrop.
It’s not clear who made the recording. A spokeswoman for the school district said they received “a broad range of complaints from students in the class and their parents.”
Principal Carly Sween announced Friday that an unnamed teacher was placed on paid administrative leave for making “racially insensitive comments” pending a district investigation.
The high school class where the discussion took place was a hybrid class with students both in the classroom and at home online. The recording was made by a parent pointing a smartphone at the computer of a student who was working from home. The parent disagreed with what Gardner was saying and eventually confronted her.
Here is an excerpt of Gardner speaking, according to the video: “... There’s been a lot of shootings with people of color. The reason why you don’t hear about it though is because it doesn’t fit that angry white male narrative that the media wants … The shooter in Alabama with his son at the military base was a Black man and a Black son. They shot at the soldiers on the military base ... There was one, a couple, maybe two weeks ago — the person was Hispanic. There was another one where the person was of Middle Eastern descent. So it’s not just crazy white men who are out, or crazy white boys who are out, shooting up things. It is crazy people. They do have a screw loose if they are going to go into a school, or a store, or movie theater and shoot people. Yeah, they're crazy. I’m not defending them, but it’s not just white guys.”
Later in the recording, Gardner is confronted by a tutor, who was listening online and said she was uncomfortable with the conversation and with condoning stereotypes based on a person’s clothing. The tutor added that noncompliance with police is no excuse for murder saying, “... if someone doesn’t get in the cop car, it doesn’t mean that you kneel on their neck til they die.”
Gardner responded: “I didn’t say that it was good. I actually said, ‘No, it was wrong.’ But I am saying that if people comply with the police, they have much less chance of being killed by the police.”
The parent watching and recording the discussion told Gardner that she sounded uneducated and, as a white woman, she could not properly address the topic of police killings.
“I am a woman of color who has lived in the South, who was born and raised in the South, who experienced racism first hand, even when I was a child,” the parent said. “So some of the things that you are saying, I feel that you are very uneducated on, and I don’t feel like that you are able to address these things that are going on in the world today, especially correctly, because you have a different perception of what is going on. You have a different perception and outlook on the George Floyd case and any other thing that you said.”
Earlier in the video, Gardner made a statement that police officers must make snap decisions under stress when deciding whether to use force.
The parent pointed out that police officers are trained. “You should stop this conversation. Period,” the parent told Gardner shortly before the recording stops.
Sween alerted families in an email: “On April 28, I was notified by a parent that a Lathrop teacher made racially insensitive comments during a lesson that day. After meeting with the parent, I immediately contacted the district’s human resources department, EEO and the superintendent’s office. Subsequently, the teacher was placed on paid administrative leave, while the district initiated an investigation.”
Both Sween and Assistant Principal Clarice Mingo met with the class to discuss what happened and “provide opportunities for them to reflect on the situation.”
Gardner’s comments come as the school district is in the midst of diversity, equity and inclusion training.
“The district continues to be committed to creating a welcoming and supportive environment for all students, recognizing the diversity of our students as one of our greatest strengths,” Sween wrote to Lathrop parents and guardians. “Through ongoing inclusivity training for staff, we continually improve our ability to identify concerns and respond quickly to situations that do not uphold our commitment to a safe, equitable environment.”
She thanked the parents who brought the incident to her attention and staff for “swift action,” saying “by working together we can demonstrate how to address difficult issues in a way that brings about positive change for our students, school and community.”
The president of the Fairbanks Education Association said a union advocate will assist Gardner.
“We will certainly make sure that due process is followed,” said Sandi Ryan, president of the FEA.
Yumi McCulloch, director of public relations for Fairbanks area schools, said the video is part of an investigation into what happened. It’s not known how long that investigation will take.
Lathrop staff “continue to provide support to students and families,” McCulloch wrote in an email.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMborough.