High school teacher changes language in assignment after backlash from students

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SAUGERTIES – A ninth grade class assignment from a Saugerties High School English teacher was looked at with disfavor by some students, who posted it on social media.

“You must write this paragraph in the same format as the Regent’s examination – Create a bold topic/thematic sentence. Justify your claim key pieces of evidence, and also address the alternate claim,” the teacher wrote. She instructed the students to use phrases like: It is evidence…, It is clear…, It is obvious…

She shared as an example: “George Floyd did not die because Chauvin’s knee was on his neck. He died from a heart attack and drug overdose. However, because Chauvin used excessive force and failed to render aid, he was convicted on all three counts by a jury of his peers. (Arrest was over a counterfeit $20 bill.)”

School Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said the assignment “was a critical lens assignment, but we have to make sure that we are conscious of all of our assignments and making sure we are looking at our work through the lens of our students all the time.”

Reinhardt said once they were made aware of this, “the teacher did revise the assignment when she realized it made a student feel uncomfortable.”

He said high school staff met with the teacher and student. “I just want to make sure that we are always creating an environment where our students feel safe, feel valued and feel respected. That is our goal all the time.”

In a message on the school district’s website, Reinhardt wrote, “The racial and social tensions in our nation are significantly heightened because crucial discussions about racism have not always taken place in the past. This is hard, but necessary work and we are all still learning. We acknowledge that we might get things wrong as we journey forward, but we know we must do better and are working to do so. This situation has elevated the need to be more conscious of the unintended consequences of assignments containing sensitive topics, especially those that involve race. We sincerely apologize to anyone who felt hurt by this.”