Breanna Reeves and Drew Nate |
A JW North High School math teacher has been placed on administrative leave after a video of her mockingly chanting and dancing around the classroom in a fake headdress went viral on Thursday.
In the video, the teacher is seen chanting “SohCahToa,” a mnemonic device that is commonly used to teach trigonometry in classrooms. The video captures a scene that Native American students and community members are already familiar with — the misappropriation and mockery of Native American culture.
“How many students now seeing her react that way or even on the viral videos that are going on, are now mimicking her within their discussions in their own neighborhoods now?” asked Assemblymember James Ramos who is Serrano and Cahuilla and the first Native American person elected to the California Assembly. “And how does that make the Native American students feel or the Native American community feel?”
The Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) released a statement in response to the incident, which read in part, “Her actions do not represent the values of our district.” RUSD is currently pursuing an investigation into the incident.
“We are deeply committed to implementing inclusive practices and policies that honor the rich diversity of our district and the greater region. We will be working with our students, families, staff and community to regain your trust,” the statement read.
While RUSD has initiated an investigation into the incident and the teacher, community members expressed outrage at an RUSD Board Meeting Thursday evening. A few attendees who spoke called for the teacher to be fired immediately.
A young girl in attendance at the meeting, spoke powerfully to the RUSD Board Members. “Me and my people, we still don’t have our rights. We’ve been fighting for it. I always feel so sad,” she said.
She went on to say, “They treat us badly, they bully us, and nothing has happened for so long.” She gave a call to action to RUSD Board Members. As she stated in the meeting, “[Y]ou can change things, you have the power to change things.”
Several members and supporters of the American Indian Movement’s Southern California chapter went to the podium to speak, demanding that the teacher be fired, an apology to the student who filmed the incident, and an apology to Native Americans affected by the video.
“We want that apology. We want something done. We heard what your statement said — you’re going to ‘look into it’. We’ve heard over and over ‘we’re looking into it.’ No. We want it looked into now,” said Dee Dee Manzanares Ybarra, director of the American Indian Movement SoCal chapter and tribal chair of Rumšen Am:a Tur:ataj Ohlone.
“We’re not going to wait. We asked for an answer within a week. We expect that answer. Something needs to be done. All the evidence is there.”
In response to the video, community members organized a protest on Thursday to let their voices be heard in Riverside.
President of JW North Alumni Association, Sammie Luna spoke at the RUSD Board Meeting and talked about how it was a difficult day for everyone in attendance. She began by saying she is a proud Husky and by thanking Dr. Horace Jackson who was one of the first principals at JW North High School to champion cultural diversity.
She spoke in front of the RUSD Board, saying, “diversity has always been North’s greatest attribute and treasure.” She spoke of the incident and mentioned how this was the perfect example of why Assembly Bill 101 regarding ethnic studies is needed which she credited to Assemblymember Jose Medina for introducing the bill. Luna went on to say that “this bill is not only good for our students but also for teachers.”
Jesse Ramirez, a community member who also spoke at the RUSD Board Meeting called for the JW North High School teacher to be terminated. Ramirez also went on to explain the importance of ethnic studies bill.
Earlier this month, California became the first state to require students to complete an ethnic studies course for high school graduation.
“America is shaped by our shared history, much of it painful and etched with woeful injustice. Students deserve to see themselves in their studies, and they must understand our nation’s full history if we expect them to one day build a more just society,” Governor Newsom said in a statement.
Last September RUSD unanimously voted to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement among high school students beginning with the 2024-25 school year. Prior to this vote, RUSD offered both African American Studies and Chicano Studies courses as electives to students.
The incident at North High School further emphasized the need for ethnic studies and cultural competency in the classroom. Assemblymember Ramos explained that his upcoming bill, AB 1554, the California Indian Education Act, outlines curriculum guidelines for educating both students and teachers on California Native Americans.
“There has to be some type of change that takes place to make sure that California Indian people, and Native Americans throughout the nation, are respected and taught appropriately when they’re being discussed inside the classroom,” said Ramos. “This is an issue that starts at an early age that continues to move forward into higher education.”
The student who took the video remains anonymous and does not wish to be identified for safety reasons, according to Akalei Brown, who is Kanaka-Maoli and Taos Pueblo and a Native History/ Culture consultant. Brown has identified herself as the spokesperson for the family of the student.
“I felt it necessary to share this video with the world so they could have a small glimpse into the type of abuses Native children face in US schools every day,” said Brown in a statement via Instagram. “This is reality for Native people in the US and we’re not going to take it sitting down anymore. We’re standing up for our children and setting a new standard for the treatment of Native people.”
To the student who filmed the incident, Assemblymember Ramos urged, “Continue to stand up, stand up for your rights, don’t let no one take those rights from you. So, stand up, keep moving forward, and there should be no — there should be no retaliation against this student for recording what they did in that classroom.”
This district has not released the teacher’s name.
Drew Nate, a resident of Corona, California, reports for Black Voice News and the IE Voice where he focuses on stories within the Inland Empire and throughout California. An advocate for equity and social justice, he emphasizes civil rights for African Americans. Drew previously served as a staff reporter for The Criterion, a student-run newspaper publication at La Sierra University where he received his bachelor’s degree in Communications. Drew’s areas of interest include international climate change, fashion, and criminal justice reform. Contact Drew with tips, comments, and/or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.