CHICAGO (CBS) — A Senn High School teacher was under investigation Thursday night, after a student said he told her, “Go back to your country.”
The gym teacher has now been removed from the school. His final employment status will be announced following a Chicago Public Schools investigation.
As CBS 2’s Marissa Parra reported Thursday, it all started with the student sat for the National Anthem. The incident has led to protests in the hallways.
VIDEO: A Hispanic student says she sat down for the national anthem — she says her teacher then told her, "go back to your country"
Chicago's Senn High School students are now taking a stand by sitting down
— Marissa Parra (@MarParNews) February 13, 2020
On Wednesday, students at Senn, 5900 N. Glenwood Ave., took a stand by sitting down after the teacher was accused of racial discrimination.
High school seniors Tionda Cobb and Yesica Salazar said they were at the Hispanic Heritage Assembly in late January when their teacher noticed they weren’t standing for the National Anthem.
“He asked me, ‘Why aren’t you standing?’ And I had told him I have personal sentiments against this country, in which he had cut me off and told me to go back to my country,” Salazar said. “And I had told him, ‘I was born here.’”
They said just minutes before that, the same teacher asked Cobb if her legs are broken.
“He told me, do I receive reduced lunch? In which I nodded my head yes – and he told me people have died for this country,” Cobb said.
They say they were both given an ultimatum by another teacher.
“You can either stand for the National Anthem or you can get out of the auditorium,” Cobb said.
The students said they are frustrated at the lack of action from the Chicago Public Schools. They said the reason they waited weeks for the protest was to give the school the time to respond.
But they said nothing changed.
Students on Wednesday were seen wearing signs with phrases like, “Keep Senn racism free.”
The CPS website promotes the diversity at Senn High School. Of the roughly 1,500 students there, almost half identify as Hispanic and nearly a quarter identify as black.
CPS told us in response that they have launched an investigation.
“CPS is committed to fostering learning environments that embrace and support all students, and the alleged actions of the teacher in question run counter to our beliefs and priorities as a school district,” the school district said in a statement. “The district is opening an investigation into the alleged actions, and we support the students who have peacefully raised their concerns.”
Chicago Police said they did have to break up a fight between two students during the protest Wednesday. A 15-year-old girl was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor count of battery.
Late Thursday, Senn Principal Mary Beck issued the following letter to Senn students and parents announcing that CPS had decided to remove the teacher from the school. She wrote that a final determination will be made later as to whether the teacher can return:
Dear Senn Parents and Families,
The safety and well-being of your children is always our top priority, and I’m writing to update you on a situation involving a staff member. On January 30, 2020, the day of an assembly, I made the district aware that one of our staff members may have communicated inappropriately with students. While I worked with the district to gather information regarding this allegation, it may have appeared that our students’ voices were not being heard. I want to assure you that this was not the case.
As an investigation by the Office of Student Protections and Title IX (OSP) progressed and new information came to light, the district decided today to remove this individual from working in our school. At the conclusion of OSP’s investigation, a final determination will be made regarding whether it is appropriate for this individual to return to Senn. I will update the school community when a final determination is made.
I know this week has been difficult for our school, and I want you to know that the concerns our students have expressed have been heard. I’m committed to implementing the agreements I made with our students to heal our community. Here are my commitments to the Senn community:
- Providing a space for student town hall so staff and administrators can hear from students regularly.
- Helping students better understand the process for reporting behavior that does not align with our values as a school.
- Creating a designated office where reporting support is offered and students can convene.
- Posting more signs and posters that communicate our values and opportunities for student voice.
- Providing cultural training for all staff.
Please know that I am taking these agreements seriously and remain committed to providing your children with a safe, positive learning environment where they can reach their full potential. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.
Principal Mary Beck