A high school teacher in New York is drawing the ire of parents after she told students that the cause of George Floyd’s death was a heart attack and drug overdose.
The story: The teacher, Hope Antonelli, made the claim as part of an English assignment for ninth-graders. The assignment required students to write an essay with a thematic sentence and a bold topic in response to a prompt she provided.
The prompt claimed Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, was not directly responsible for his death.
“George Floyd did not die because (Derek) Chauvin’s knee was on his neck,” the prompt read. “He died from a heart attack and drug overdose. However, because Chauvin used excessive force and failed to render aid, he was convicted on all three counts by a jury of his peers. (Arrest was over a counterfeit $20 bill).”
It then pointed to one of the jurors in Chauvin’s trial, Brandon Mitchell, who made headlines for attending a march in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., where he wore a T-shirt with the phrases “Get your knee off our neck” and “BLM,” as well as a “Black Lives Matter” hat.
“New evidence has surfaced that he could have not been forthcoming in his statements. Should the Derek Chauvin case be retried because of Brandon Mitchell. Why or why not?” the prompt asked.
The prompt triggered a review from the Saugerties Central School District. Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said they heard of the assignment when a student complained about it.
“We immediately got in contact with the (student’s) family. Our goal as a school community is to see that all our students feel they are seen, heard, respected and valued,” Reinhardt said in a statement to the Times Herald-Record.
The director of human resources, Daniel Erceg, said the district is looking into the incident.
“We want to assure our community that we are currently reviewing the assignment and speaking with the students and the teacher involved to be certain that we have all of the facts and fully understand the situation. This is so we can take the steps necessary to ensure that inappropriate assignments are not introduced to our students, intentional or not. This is a very serious matter and discussions will continue until we are confident we have reached a place of understanding among all involved,” Erceg explained.
Parents: One mother said she plans to protest in support of the idea to fire the teacher.
“(The district) is trying to fund these committees, fill them up, without actually enacting changes,” she said.
Sakinah Irizarry, who shared a screenshot of the prompt, described the assignment as harmful to NBC News.
“Even if we were not talking about this case, specifically, it takes the death of a person, I’d say, from a very cold and distant point of view,” she said. “I keep coming back to empathy. It is not an empathetic point of view of a person who died, it is blaming a person who’s died for their own death,” she added. “That chips away at empathy.”
Justine Tomkiell, a parent of three, said the prompt was racist.
“I was traumatized. I am a Black mother with three mixed children who would look Black. And my biggest fear is what happened with George Floyd. … And the fact that she made this assignment, and the wording … she chose the words that he was not murdered, and he died of a heart attack and an overdose,” Tomkiell said.
Tomkiell also said the teacher should be fired.
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Author: Penka Arsova
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