Activists are calling for the firing of a William Dickinson High School teacher after he went on a profane tirade during a virtual class about white privilege, George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I hear people whining and crying about Black Lives Matter, but George Floyd was a f*****g criminal, and he got arrested, and he got killed because he wouldn’t comply, and the bottom line is we make him a f*****g hero,” said Howard Zlotkin, a teacher with the district for 20 years, in a recording of the class.
He singled out four Black students to write an essay on “why Black lives matter,” according to senior Timmia Williams, one of the students assigned the essay and the student who recorded the incident.
Despite reporting his actions the same day to the district and the Jersey City Board of Education, Zlotkin returned to class the next day before the district officially suspended him with pay and launched an investigation.
Activists say more needs to be done.
“We’re standing in solidarity with the community at large and with the young lady who was verbally abused in a school environment,” said activist and Ward F council candidate Frank “Educational” Gilmore at a rally outside the Jersey City Board of Education building.
He called on Zlotkin to resign.
“While we do respect due process, and we’re going to let the process play out … we don’t even need the case review if he takes the initiative to just step down and to just resign,” Gilmore said.
Executive Director of the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement Pamela Johnson held a teary Williams and commended her for her courage in reporting Zlotkin.
‘He should step down’
“She is upset. We are upset,” Johnson said. “It makes no sense what happened in that classroom, and it will not be tolerated…. It was disrespectful, it was racist, it was ignorant, and he should step down.”
“Schools should be a safe place,” Johnson added. “But it was not a safe place for these students.”
She called on the district to respond more quickly to incidents like this, noting that Zlotkin was originally allowed back in the classroom following the tirade despite the recording.
She called on the district to implement implicit bias training as well as sensitivity training.
“My message to any students who were subjected to something like that is that the whole world does not think or behave that way,” said Johnson. “There are great educators out there, but we will deal with this educator right now, and we will uncover and expose the rest because he is not the only one.”
Following the rally, Superintendent of the Jersey City Public School District Franklin Walker said the investigation is ongoing and that racism will not be tolerated.
“Our children and our school district faced some very unacceptable experiences at the hands of an educator,” Walker said. “Based upon the law, I suspended the teacher with pay. My administration is working to see what else can be done to send a very specific message that hate or racism has no place in our school district.”
As far as terminating Zlotkin, Walker said Zlotkin is entitled to due process as well as tenure rights under state law.
He said the district has extended counseling and support to students and will focus on inclusion and sensitivity training for staff.
“I want to say this again and very clearly: there is no place for hate, racism of any kind, or bias in our school district,” Walker said. “I am leading from the front to ensure that our district is a safe haven for all, regardless of where they come from, what language they speak, what friends they choose, the color of their skin, or economic background.”
Zlotkin told the Washington Post that he could not comment because of the ongoing investigation but said that his comments were taken “out of context.”
“I am being judged on a snapshot out of a 60-minute class,” he told the Washington Post.