The only Black teacher in a New York school district has filed a lawsuit against the Commack School District on Long Island and is listing out a host of racial discrimination and harassment incidents in the process.
Andrea Bryan is a high school English teacher and says she’s been the only Black educator in the district for the past 17 years, according to the suit, which was obtained by Newsday this week.
In the documents filed in Central Islip federal court on Dec. 19, Bryan alleges “an atmosphere of racial harassment and intimidation” at Commack High School where she works. She said officials displayed “deliberate indifference” when she complained about her treatment. Identified in the filing as “a black female of Caribbean descent,” the teacher claims she became a “pariah” in her department when she complained about a white colleague. Bryan alleged the fellow instructor asked, “Andrea, can you translate slave talk for me?” regarding a slave character in the play “The Crucible” who traveled from Barbados to the U.S. The same educator is said to have told her that peanuts left on a table during the lunch period were reserved “for whites only.”
The May 2015 incident left her “humiliated, degraded and embarrassed” and when she complained she was demoted.
Additionally, Bryan’s filing claims administrators did not punish students who called her “Aunt Jemima” in 2016 and 2017. Such “racial jeers, insults and taunts described herein created a hostile work environment in which plaintiff feared for her safety at work,” according to the suit.
The filing also states that despite the teacher having senior ranking in her department, she did not have a dedicated classroom. Instead, that was “a privilege that had been afforded many white junior teachers.”
Bryan also alleges another incident of discrimination during a December 2017 Secret Santa gift exchange. Despite the $50 price limit, she was only gifted with a container of hand sanitizer while other instructors got presents that were valued close to the price limit.
“Plaintiff understood that she was presented with hand sanitizer because she is black and, therefore, dirty in the view of her colleagues,” the suit alleges.
Bryan hopes to receive punitive and compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees in her filing. No dollar amounts have been specified.
Brenda Lentsch, a spokeswoman for the district, told the publication that privacy requirements prohibited her from discussing the details of the litigation but said “the district takes any allegation of discrimination seriously and, as a matter of policy and practice, acts swiftly in response to any claim.
“We can say that all of them have been investigated and, to the extent appropriate, promptly addressed,” the spokeswoman added.
She also said that Bryan’s claim that she is the sole Black educator in the district is untrue. However, though she did not know the exact number of black instructors there. Lentsch also said that Bryan still teaches at Commack High.
The New York State Education Department states the high school has 2,300 students and is 86 percent white. Meanwhile, Black students make up just over 1 percent of the student body. As for the school district, which serves 6,300 students, white students make up the bulk of the population at 82 percent while Black students only represent 1 percent of the population.