Twenty-one City Council members have signed onto a letter calling for cultural sensitivity training for city educators in the wake of a series of racially charged incidents in public schools.
The call to action comes after February reports of a Bronx teacher who stepped on a black student as part of a slavery lesson, a Bronx principal who barred black history lessons, and a Brooklyn PTA group that used blackface imagery in an invitation for a fund-raiser.
Advocates from the Coalition for Educational Justice co-wrote the letter addressed to Mayor de Blasio that calls for expanded training in culturally responsive education, the development of multi-cultural coursework, and the creation of an office for culturally responsive education within the city Education Department.
“Since the beginning of February, stories about racial bias in schools across New York City have made national news, drawing outrage, anger and protests,” the letter states.
“As elected officials representing the diverse communities of New York City, we will not allow students to continue to be demeaned and degraded in our schools,” it continues.
Coalition for Educational Justice coordinator Natasha Capers said her group has pushed the city to provide anti-bias training for city educators for months.
“Culturally responsive education isn’t going to be something people forget about just because the news cycle has shifted,” Capers said.
Council Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger, who signed onto the letter, said it’s time for the city to tackle reports of bias in the classroom.
“When our education system, curricula and the training our educators receive reflect the incredible diversity of our city, it’s our city’s students and families that benefit,” Treyger said.
City Education Department officials removed Bronx Middle School 118 teacher Patricia Cummings from her post in February after the Daily News published reports that she singled out black students and told them to lie on the floor for a lesson on U.S. slavery — and then stepped on their backs to show them what slavery felt like.
Department officials are also probing reports that Bronx Intermediate School 224 Principal Patricia Catania blocked black history lessons at her school.
And in Brooklyn, the PTA of Public School 118 grabbed headlines and sparked another Education Department investigation when an announcement for a speakeasy-themed PTA fund-raiser included photos of performers in blackface.
Education Department spokesman will Mantell said the city already has a number of programs in place intended to celebrate diversity in the city schools, including recommended social studies lessons, anti-bias training for some teachers, and programs to improve diversity in the city’s corps of teachers and principals.
“We believe in culturally responsive education, and continue to and work with families, advocates, and elected officials to strengthen and expand training and curriculum opportunities for our educators,” Mantell said.