A Washington school district is investigating after a white teacher dialed police on a Black fifth grade student who she claims threatened her with physical violence earlier this year.
The teacher, who’s unnamed, told authorities she felt “unsafe” after the 4-foot-11 student allegedly threatened to beat her up, according to The Seattle Times. The incident has since roiled the school community and sparked calls from concerned parents about bias in disciplinary action by schools.
Manuela Slye, newly elected president of the Seattle Council Parent Teacher Student Association, argued that the teacher’s impulse to involve police in a disciplinary issue, and against a child so young, sets a dangerous precedent. Like-minded advocates agreed, a group of Seattle school district employees writing on Facebook last week that, “the teacher wielded her white fragility and racial bias like a weapon.”
“This is what the School to Prison Nexus looks like,” the group, For Racial Justice in Seattle Schools, wrote in a post accompanied by audio from the 911 call. “Those of us who understand bias has the potential to be deadly also understand that this teacher’s whiteness put this young man’s life in danger.”
“This must be addressed and the system must shift and be held accountable,” it added.
The incident unfolded at Van Asselt Elementary School in May when the teacher said a fifth grade student became disruptive and threatened her during class.
“This is a non-emergency. I need to file a police report,” she tells the dispatcher.
The teacher explains that the student, an 11-year-old male, threatened to “beat the f—-g sh-t” out of her and that he didn’t care that she was a woman. She says the student “puffed his chest out” moved toward her, as if he were going to act on his words.
She said there were no weapons on the young man, whom she described as “African-American with dreadlocks.” At one point, she tells the dispatcher she doesn’t feel safe inside the school and tries to leave. The student had already been removed from the classroom, according to the police report.
The teacher ultimately stayed at the school, where officers arrived to find her “visibly upset” and anxious over the situation.
School Board President Leslie Harris confirmed the district is reviewing the incident, The Seattle Times reported. The district spokesman Tim Robinson, spoke specifically to the issue of racial bias in school discipline, calling it an “unfortunate” incident and saying that the district’s discipline policy seeks to address the disproportionality.
A growing body of research has shown that African-American students are punished more often, and more harshly than their white peers for the same behavioral infractions. Previous studies have shown that not only are Black students are nearly four times as likely than white students to be suspended from school, but they’re also three times as likely to be referred to police for an incident that occurred on campus.
Moreover, research by the Brookings Institution found that Black students in the South bore the brunt of physical in-school discipline and were twice as likely to receive corporal punishment than their white peers.
Just last week, a 10-year-old African-American boy in Detroit was was facing assault charges after injuring a classmate during a schoolyard ball game earlier this year. The county prosecutor eventually elected to drop the charges.
A teacher at Van Asselt said the visit from police cast a dark cloud over the school, which boasts a student body that is 38 percent Black. According to the Times, the unnamed teacher ultimately decided not to press charges against the student for fear of retaliation from the school’s administration, which had suggested other ways to handle the situation.
District spokesman Robinson later confirmed to Atlanta Black Star that the issue was “appropriately and properly” resolved by the school months ago, and the details of the matter haven’t been accurately reflected in the media.
“There is information we can’t legally or contractually share, making this situation even more challenging,” Robinson said in a statement. It is important the public knows that school leadership was in direct contact with the student’s family. The student’s welfare was the school leader’s top priority. Additional priority was focused toward the staff, as well. This incident is not reflective of the Van Asselt school culture, it was an unfortunate situation for the child and staff involved. The principal is working with families and staff to support continued understanding and improving approaches to equitable and student-affirming discipline.”
It’s unclear whether the student is still enrolled at the school.
Seattle Public Schools didn’t return requests for comment.
Hear more of the 911 call below.