Upstate New York teachers placed on leave after students discover ‘racist and demeaning’ texts

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Several public school teachers in Rochester, New York, were placed on leave last week after students discovered what officials described as “racist and demeaning” text messages they exchanged.

The teachers were employed at Enrico Fermi School 17, which teaches pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and has many Black and Hispanic students, according to The Democrat and Chronicle.

One of the messages in the group chat, which was discovered May 21 when one of the teachers involved allowed students to use her phone for a video, reportedly used an obscenity to wish for one girl to beat up another one.

Another joked about sending an automated phone call to “90% of the kids” and their families that said: “I’m calling to remind you that you are a [expletive] parent and your kid is a [expletive] like you. Thanks.”

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Enrico Fermi School 17 in Rochester, New York

Enrico Fermi School 17 in Rochester, New York (Credit: Google Maps)

“Dave said I have to take my clothes off in the garage and put them in a bag and put them in the dryer on hot, and then get a job in Penfield,” said another, to which two teachers responded with laughter.

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Rochester City School District Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small denounced the teachers’ actions, saying in a prepared statement: “I am horrified at the racist and demeaning references and language used to describe children … our children! The staff members have been put on leave and the District will use all forms of available discipline up to and including termination.”

Interior of classroom in elementary school

Interior of classroom in elementary school (iStock)

“I want to make it clear that we strongly believe that everyone, and especially our students, are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect,” said Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski, who said he was unsure how many teachers were involved in the incident. “We are also committed to fairness and due process and the investigation is still ongoing.”

Empty classroom

Empty classroom (iStock)

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The controversy comes weeks after officials announced they are investigating claims that a White social studies teacher in Rochester instructed his students, most of whom were Black, to pick seeds out of cotton while wearing handcuffs and shackles during a class about slavery.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.