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Teacher on Leave After Racist Comments

A Fairbanks teacher has been put on administrative leave for comments made during a class. Lathrop High School officials say they were notified last Wednesday, by a parent about “racially insensitive comments.”

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District has not publicly named the teacher, but a 15-minute video of the class posted online, shows a teacher identified as Ms. Gardner. Connie Gardner is a special education teacher at Lathrop. The video shows her leading a conversation about police killing black people, including the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin. Gardner does not defend Chauvin but says Floyd would be alive if he had complied with police orders.

“I’m an old white lady and if the cops came up to me and said mam, put your hands behind your back, you’re going to jail…I’m putin’ my hands behind my back.”

Referring to her students, Gardner also comments on how to dress to avoid trouble with police.   

“Look at how you guys are dressed.  You’re dressed nicely. You don’t look like thugs. You don’t have your pants down around your knees.”

Later in the conversation one of the student’s parents watching the online class interjects, and challenges Gardner.

Parent: “I just disagree with the conversation in whole. I feel like this is something that you know like Ms. Gardner I don’t feel like you’re really able to address with you being a white woman. You know I am a woman of color. 

Teacher: “That’s where you’re wrong”

Parent: “I am a woman of color.” 

School District spokesperson Yumi McCulloch says the school principal notified the district about the comments last week.

“Principal Sween contacted the District’s Human Resources Department, Equal Employment and Opportunity office and the Superintendent. Following that, an investigation was opened and the teacher was placed on paid administrative leave.”

In a letter to parents on Friday, Lathrop High School Principal Carly Sween said she and Assistant Principal Clarice Mingo, who is Black, met with students in the class to discuss what happened.   

McCulloch said the high school will continue to communicate with the students while the Human Resources Department conducts an investigation.

“Lathrop administration continues to meet with students and parents regarding these types of issues and to provide support for parents and students alike.”

Under their contract with the district, teachers are protected while an investigation is ongoing. Sandra Ryan is president of Fairbanks Education Association.

“We’ll follow the investigative procedure, so there is an advocate assigned by FEA, and that advocate will meet with the member, and making sure that their rights in the contract are followed at all times.”

Ms. Gardner did not respond to an email requesting comment

Dan has been in public radio news in Alaska since 1993. He’s worked as a reporter, newscaster and talk show host at stations in McGrath, Valdez and Fairbanks. Dan’s experience includes coverage of a wide range of topics, from wolf control to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and dog mushing.