In what was meant as a Black history lesson on Ruby Bridges for both kindergarten students of color and their white classmates at P.S. 24 Spuyten Duyvil turned into a teachable moment for the teacher who has worked at the school for more than two decades.
“Back in January, the teacher decided to do a class showing a reenactment of how segregation once was,” said Daniella Garramone, a parent of one of the students in Bonnie Roth’s kindergarten class. “She split up the class by those perceived to be white on one side and those who were black and brown on the other.
“The white students were allowed to have a party and received some stickers while the black and brown students watched. They didn’t get to participate in the party.”
Garramone, who is white, described how her son cried after the class because he felt left out. “The day before I found out about the incident we were reading about Harriet Tubman. He said, ‘I wish I was white like you, mommy.’ I asked him what he was talking about.”
That was when her son told her about the segregation class incident. She then heard from other class mothers who asked to meet with Roth and school principal Steven Schwartz.
They want an apology from the teacher to the students and a proof that Roth takes a sensitivity class.
“The whole time I wanted an apology from her to the kids,” Garramone said. “For her to acknowledge that (an apology) to the kids would show them how to take accountability and responsibility.”
As of press time, the only action was that Roth would agree to take a diversity equity inclusion sensitivity course, according to emails from the administration to the parents.
According to some of the parents, they noticed around Easter that Roth was out for three days and was replaced by an in-house substitute teacher who spoke about diversity, equity and inclusion.
Tamara Fish and another mother met with Roth after the incident in February. Garramone said she “admitted to what she did but she was defensive.” Eventually, Roth wrote a letter to all the class parents in March where she did apologize to the parents.
However, Fish noted she wanted to meet with Roth because some of the parents weren’t sure if their children may have been embellishing. “And she told us that she was inspired in the moment as they were discussing Ruby Bridges and what it means to be discriminated,” she said.
At the age of 6, Ruby Bridges was the first African-American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana in 1960
Roth’s letter to the parents focused on the timing of the complaint and how sorry she was.
“I recently met with the administration to discuss an anonymous complaint that was submitted back in January,” she wrote. “I was not informed about this complaint until yesterday. I want to sincerely apologize for my actions and lack of judgment during Black History Month with regards to a lesson that was taken out of context. My intentions were to educate my students.”
Soon after the incident, Schwartz told class parents in an email how he followed protocol and that an investigation by the city education department’s Office of School Investigations is now closed.
“Upon receiving your concern about this activity, the administration immediately followed protocol and called in the complaint to the OSI,” he wrote. “After giving the authority to do so, the administration immediately called a meeting with Mrs. Roth to discuss her actions and to determine the rationale for choosing this inappropriate (lesson).
In a separate email to one class parent, Schwartz said “the administration considered this matter closed and will not discuss any regarding this situation and the class moving forward.”
When reached by The Riverdale Press for comment, Schwartz said he was not allowed to according to protocol. “Ninety nine times out of 100 times, I’d like to talk to you but if it involves an investigation, I can’t,” he said. He reiterated the investigation has been closed by OSI.
The comment about the investigation being closed upset many of the parents because Schwartz told them in an email OSI didn’t find any student who was directly affected by the segregation lesson.
Three of the parents who spoke to The Press said that was not true. In fact, they explained how children of mixed color families were hurt and confused by the experiment.
They also mentioned none of them or their children had been approached by OSI.
“You have a cadre of kids wondering about the color of each other and possibly rejecting who they are,” Fish said. “It is painful for the families as well as the children. My son is a brown boy.”