A California high school teacher is on paid leave this week after being accused of simulating a noose around his neck and making a vulgar comment toward a Black student, authorities said.
In the April 30 incident, police said a Santa Teresa High School teacher was talking with a group of football players on campus when he took an exercise rope and wrapped it around his neck to simulate a hanging. He then turned to the lone Black student in the bunch and said something to the effect of “stay away from me.”
The encounter, investigated by San Jose police and under review by the Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office, was made public Wednesday by members of the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet of Silicon Valley, the Mercury News reported.
“It scared the kid and crushed him,” said Rev. Reginald Swilley, Cabinet co-chair of the organization. “Children are trying to be educated in an environment where they’re being threatened. Our community is very upset, and nobody did anything until the community spoke.”
The teacher, who is white and remains unnamed, is said to have meant the gesture as a joke, according to the newspaper. The student was visibly bothered by it, however, and reported the incident to school officials the following day.
“The teacher involved was placed on paid administrative leave and remains on leave at this time,” the East Side High School District said in a statement. “The district is not able at this time to discuss a pending personnel issue.”
Superintendent Chris Funk said he was “disturbed and troubled” by the accusations.
“That type of language coming out of someone who works for the district is unacceptable, and that is not the type of person I want in our system,” Funk said. ” … The entire district leadership team is committed to redoubling its own efforts and to working with community stakeholders to ensure that discrimination, harassment and bullying are removed from our campuses, classrooms, programs, and workplace.”
San Jose police wrapped up their investigation into the encounter and acknowledged it as a hate incident — not a hate crime, local station ABC 7 reported. For it to be considered a hate crime, prosecutors would have to believe the student felt threatened by the teacher’s alleged gesture. The teacher never made contact with the student during the incident, however, so no criminal charges are expected to be filed.
“Actions such as this that occurred are not tolerated,” said San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia. “The case was taken to the District Attorney’s Office, was deemed to be a hate incident and not hate crime, so there were no charges filed.”
According to ABC 7, local activists and the NAACP have penned a letter to the D.A.’s office asking that the case be classified as a hate crime and arguing that racism is an ongoing issue in the school district. They’re reportedly considering a civil rights lawsuit against the school district.