A high school teacher in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. has been removed from the classroom pending an investigation into disparaging remarks he made to a Haitian student, in which he referred to the teen’s native home as “some third-world island country.”
Palm Beach High School officials said they’re investigating the incident after video of the tense exchange was shared on Facebook, Newsweek reported. A relative of the student said the video has been viewed more than 26,000 times since Friday.
In the clip, the unnamed teacher can be heard berating the student in front of his classmates.
“It’s called a door, let me show you how it works,” he says. “I don’t know how it works where you’re from, down in some third-world island country, where they don’t got them. Let me show you what it’s like in America.”
Radio host and Haitian activist James Leger said the teacher’s comment was undoubtedly racist.
“It’s hurtful and I’m hurt and the community is hurting,” Leger told local station WPTV, adding that his phones were ringing off the hook last week as listeners called in to offer their two cents on the incident.
The student’s family said they initially went to the school to address the situation. No action was taken, however, so they decided to post video of the teacher’s rant to social media. The backlash that ensued eventually prompted Palm Beach Gardens High School principal Larry Clawson to give parents a phone call.
“Many of you may have heard media reports of a video circulating of one of our teachers verbally interacting with a student in a potentially inappropriate manner,” Clawson said in the call. “This call is to assure you [that] I am aware of the video, and the matter is being addressed by professional standards at this time.”
“Because this is an open inquiry, I am not at liberty to share any additional details with you, but I wanted to assure you that we have processes in place to review incidents like this,” he added.
Some current and former students have come to the defense of the embattled teacher, describing him as a “great coach and a great man,” WPTV reported. Others said the teacher was simply making a joke.
Those in the Haitian community didn’t find the comments very funny, however.
“I couldn’t take that as a joke,” Leger said. “Even if it was a joke that’s gone too far.” The radio host said he doesn’t want the teacher to be fired but instead wants an apology so that something like this doesn’t happen to other students.