Students at a New Jersey high school connected to their remote landscape and design class on Wednesday morning, expecting their teacher to lead a discussion on climate change. Instead, the teacher launched a racist, swearing rant against Black Lives Matter and George Floyd, the man murdered by a Minneapolis cop.
“He’s not a hero, he’s like a criminal,” shouted teacher Howard Zlotkin, who is white, in front of a class of about 15 students on a Google Meet call, according to a video shared with the New York Times. He berated the students for, as he described it, making heroes of criminals “because they are black or because they have a bad history.”
One of the students filmed the rant on her phone and immediately contacted school officials. When they didn’t respond, she contacted a local news station, NBC New York, who reported on the story.
Now an investigation is underway and Mr. Zlotkin, a science teacher at William L. Dickinson High School in Jersey City, has been suspended with pay, said Mussab Ali, chairman of the Jersey City Board of Education. Zlotkin was also suspended with pay from his position as an assistant professor at Hudson County Community College, a spokeswoman confirmed.
“The actions taken by this teacher are not representative of a part of the most diverse city in the country,” Ali said.
Mr Zlotkin said he could not comment in detail because of the investigation, but that he “would like to give my side of the story someday.”
He described the footage as a “very well-edited sound bite,” although nearly 15 minutes of video shared with The Times showed it repeatedly insulting and insulting the students.
Since schools started running online classes, there have been numerous cases across the country of teachers making racist and offensive remarks. In some cases, teachers had been caught making racist statements when they thought they were silent. In Mr. Zlotkin’s case, he knew he was heard.
Timmia Williams, a 17-year-old who provided videos of two-day classes to The Times, said a climate change mission turned into secular rants about race and personal attacks on students, including her.
On Wednesday morning, the students submitted brief research papers, Williams said. After returning his, the professor asked him how humans are involved in climate change. Eventually, he opened up about his disagreement with Black Lives Matter, she said.
As four students, including Ms Williams, who is black, contested his stance on the matter, he grew increasingly irritated. He cursed one of them who told him he had white privilege. He then gave the four students, all girls, the task of writing an essay on “why black lives should matter,” Williams said. No other student was invited to do the assignment.
Dickinson High School’s student body is 47 percent Hispanic and 15 percent Black, according to US News and World Report. Eighty-five percent of students are minorities.
Ms Williams told her mother what had happened. She said she was too shaken up to celebrate her acceptance to college that day.
“This is the first time I have felt someone tell me that my opinion doesn’t matter because I’m young and because I’m black and everything,” Ms. Williams said. “It just threw me out. I just started to cry.
The next day in class, after refusing to do the task, Mr. Zlotkin appeared upset.
“Why? You can’t defend yourself?” He told Ms. Williams, according to a video of the interaction. “No you can’t, Timmia, that’s why.
When Ms. Williams began to defend herself, Ms. Zlotkin cursed at her and later told her to “talk to the hand”. He berated another student who refused to take the test and started a third of the class reunion remotely after defending his classmates, she said.
Ms Williams said she and her parents contacted the school and school board about what happened after Wednesday’s class, but received no response. She felt like she was not being heard and wanted to stand up for herself and her classmates, she said. That’s why they handed the video of the lessons to the news station.
Her mother, Margie Nieves, said she had not received any communication or apologies from the school.
“I still feel kind of a way because they didn’t fix it on the spot,” she said. “They waited.”