A white Los Angeles County school teacher spent over 30 minutes eviscerating one of her Black students after she met with his mother for a parent-teacher teleconference on Zoom earlier this year.
Kimberly Newman laid into the student, a sixth-grader in one of her science classes. She called his family “scammers” and “liars,” insulted his mother and hurled epithets against Black people.
But Newman forgot to log out of the Zoom conference. And unbeknownst to her, the boy’s mother was listening to her racially charged tirade the whole time.
“Your son has learned to lie to everybody and make excuses. To be entitled, because you’ve taught him to make excuses that nothing is his fault,” Newman said on the hot mic. “This is what Black people do. This is what Black people do. White people do it too, but Black people do it way more.”
School district officials placed Newman on administrative leave in January following her profanity-laced rant. The teacher later resigned.
Now she and the Palmdale School District where she used to teach find themselves in the crosshairs of a pending lawsuit. Attorneys for the student’s mother, Katura Stokes, filed a tort claim against the district last week. The claim is a legal precursor that puts the district on notice of Stokes’ intentions to file a lawsuit.
“I think they were devastated and in shock,” the family’s attorney John C. Taylor told Atlanta Black Star. “Remote learning is frustrating for people on both sides of the equation, both for kids and for the teachers. I get that. But remote learning didn’t turn this teacher into a racist. And it’s frightening to hear the ease with which she says the things she does about the mom and the kid, which first off indicates that is not the first time that she has said those things. And it’s frightening to think that conversations among other teachers might sound like that too.”
District spokesman David Garcia called Newman’s comments “gross, professional misconduct” in a statement that didn’t identify the teacher by name. Taylor said they have described her as a “rogue teacher” who didn’t reflect the school district’s values.
“There are so many moving parts to this story right now, and so many directions that this story can go, there are massive liability issues to a lot of people and including the District,” Garcia said in the statement. “So, as you’ve heard a zillion times that we must be sure that we do not risk anyone’s best interest and we protect the rights of everyone and their privacy, at least for now.”
Stokes’ 12-year-old son is a student at Desert Willow Fine Arts, Science and Technology Magnet Academy, a middle school in Palmdale, California. It serves a student population that’s 76 percent Hispanic, 16 percent Black and 5 percent white.
Attorneys said the child was having difficulties accessing the online platform for his classes. He and his mother lived in an area with spotty WiFi. The school district set him up with a hotspot, but he still struggled to access his coursework. The boy fell behind on his assignments and his grades plummeted.
Stokes contacted school officials on multiple occasions asking for help. They told her to talk to Newman, her son’s science teacher, who scheduled a Jan. 20 conference with the mother via Zoom to discuss the issue.
But after their “office hours” session was over, Newman vented about the situation to her husband. While crafting an email that she sent to the student’s other teachers as well as school administrator, she accused Stokes of lying about her son’s difficulties accessing the online network and suggested the single mother was attempting to avoid her.
“These parents are such f—king liars. They’re such f—king liars. Absolute f—king liars,” Newman fumed to her husband, who be heard responding in the background during the conversation.
Attorneys said the teacher “repeatedly mocks and denigrates” Stokes in her email and “spewed angry comments and racial prejudices” during her diatribe.
“I mean these parents, that’s what kind of pieces of s–t they are. Black. She’s Black, they’re a Black family,” the teacher is heard saying.
Stokes used her cellphone to video record the teacher’s comments. She also called the school’s principal and placed him on speaker phone so he could listen to Newman’s rant as it was occurring.
In the video, a frustrated Newman said Stokes had called the school all year complaining about her son’s connection issues, but she called the mother a “no-show” who’s never come to parent-teacher conferences. She told her husband the child’s other teachers were “pissed off beyond belief” and said school administrators told her Stokes called “screaming and yelling that nobody calls her back.”
Newman claimed she called the mother repeatedly and left a series of text messages. She said Stokes only answered her phone call when she called from an unrecognizable number, and the mother thought it was a call from her friend “Natalie.”
Taylor said “Natalie” was actually a therapist Stokes was seeing to be treated for COVID-19 related mental health issues.
“I think that to be accused of being a liar when you’re doing nothing except trying to get assistance for your kid,” Taylor said, “and then for the teacher to say that either he’s a liar, and/or that he’s learned that from the mom, it’s just got to be jaw-dropping for them to hear that when really they were just asking for help.”
In the video, Newman seemed to gloat that she busted Stokes in a lie and took pleasure in the email she sent to her fellow teacher.
“Oh my god, I just burned her. I just f–king burned her. Everybody is like f–king thrilled. All year,” she said. “And this never would have happened had she not thought I was Natalie.”
Stokes could be heard gasping in horror as she listened to Newman’s comments. “Are you serious?” she said at one point. Later Stokes could be heard saying “This is crazy, I knew she was racist.”
At one point in the video that attorneys did not release, they say Stokes’ son could be seen crying. He stormed out of the room and slammed a door as Newman accused children like him of being raised to lie and make excuses.
While on the phone with Stokes, the school’s principal called an aide, who then contacted Newman during the teleconference. The aide asked Newman if she was in the midst of a profanity-laced outburst and the teacher initially denied it. The staff member then told Newman she was on Zoom and she ended the conference.
Newman spoke to the school aide on speaker phone as Stokes was recording the conversation.
“Unbelievably, at some point, one staff person from the school calls the teacher, towards the end of the Zoom call, and says, ‘You know there’s a parent that’s been recording this? Have you been making obscenities and profanities and saying these things about a student?’ And she denies it,” Neil Gehlawat, the family’s other attorney, told KTLA 5. “She denies it all together and then she exits out of the Zoom call.”
Taylor said he wants the Palmdale district to implement more racial sensitivity training for teachers at the Desert Willow Fine Arts, Science and Technology Magnet Academy. He cited a 2019 incident at another elementary school in the district where four teachers were placed on leave after gleefully posing with a noose.
According to the L.A. Times, the teachers claimed it was an end-of-school-year joke as they encouraged students to “hang in there until summer” and used punchlines like “we’ve reached the end of our rope.”
When the photo of the four smiling white women posing with the noose went viral on social media and sparked outrage, the teachers said were unaware of its deeply offensive racial connotations. One said she associated it with the Old West. School district officials deemed the picture “ignorant” and said the teachers “lacked judgment.” The principal who snapped the photo resigned after the school year was over, but it was unclear if the teachers were terminated.
Taylor indicated Newman’s unabashed commentary begs the question of what was the environment in her classroom for minority students before remote learning began. Attorneys are calling for an audit of the grades she gave Black and Hispanic children in her classes. They also want the district to find out whether there was any unfair disparate treatment amongst her students.
Stokes said she began recording Newman because she didn’t think anyone would believe her if she reported the teacher’s comments without evidence. It’s unclear if the recording would be permissible in court.
California is a two-party consent state that makes it illegal to record a private conversation without all parties’ consent. The state law carves out a loophole to record private conversations to gather evidence of violent felonies and other crimes like extortion, kidnapping and bribery. It was unclear if the host of Stokes and Newman’s meeting enabled the app’s recordings disclaimer feature, which would have notified both parties at the beginning of the conference.
“I know that there’s some indication that they might think that it’s a violation of the penal code to record the one-sided conversation. I would have to look at that,” Taylor said. “It could be problematic. But then I don’t know if you ask the teacher did you say these things or did it happen and the person denies it, can you then use this to impeach them or prove that they’re not being truthful?”