RUSD Suspended Teacher’s Denigrating Math Lesson
By Dianne Anderson
Dr. Regina Patton Snell didn’t attend the recent Riverside Unified School Board meeting as the local branch NAACP president, but more so as a parent and a grandparent concerned how long a recently suspended high school math teacher has been denigrating Native Americans, or other students of color.
At issue, Candice Reed’s notion of a math lesson where she was jumping around, wearing a cartoonish Native American headdress, ranting “SohCahToa,” which is supposedly a mnemonic tool to help with trigonometry ratios. A Native American student took the video that went viral.
“Every parent and grandparent in this district are outraged that a child would be humiliated like that,” said Snell, a retired educator with decades in school administration as a teacher, a principal, a director for the superintendent, and a site supervisor in Human Resources.
Dr. Snell wants the students in the video to know they are not alone, but she is equally concerned that if this happened so blatantly, to what extent the teacher’s influence and insensitivity may be impacting all Black and Brown children.
Her own children grew up in the district, and she has also participated in the district’s advisory board with Equity Access and Community Engagement, which she said has done a lot of work to help raise teacher sensitivity of various races and cultures. She emphasized that cultural competency is something that all teachers have been taught over the past several years because districts have purposefully stepped up training.
Reactions have been mixed with some people brushing off the incident as a simple operational math procedure, but Dr. Snell said it’s difficult for her to make the shift that the math teacher’s lesson was incidental, or anything except completely out of line.
The district promptly suspended the teacher at John W. North High School while they are reviewing and preparing to make a recommendation.
“I have consulted with several math consultants that say this was an inappropriate strategy and culturally insensitive to teach any math concept,” she said.
In Snell’s 36 year background in education, she said that as a rule of thumb, people are not put on administrative leave without substantial preliminary concerns of their ability to remain in their position.
In her observation as a long-time administrator, she feels these types of egregious errors in judgment tend to persist.
“Especially for something so outrageous and have such a horrific impact on students, sometimes it’s time to counsel people out of the profession. That’s what I feel has to happen in this situation,” she said.
Several parents in the board meeting came forward to say this wasn’t the first time that the teacher exhibited cultural insensitivity, but Dr. Snell said she is confident that RUSD Superintendent Renee Hill will get to the bottom of the issue.
A statement on behalf of the Board of Education and Superintendent Hill said the investigation will address who knew what, and when and whether this was an isolated incident, or if it happened in prior years.
“While the investigation is taking place, our team of counselors and administrators are focusing on our students. We have met with, and will continue to meet with students in the class and community and take actions to heal. As the Superintendent, I do not want this incident to diminish the work that everyone connected with North High has done over a long period of time to welcome all who enter their school community,” Superintendent Hill stated.
Dell Roberts, longtime community activist and a lifetime member of the Black Historical Society of Riverside, said that it’s sad to see this happen in this day and age. Roberts is retired from the Riverside Unified School District after serving over three decades in several capacities within the district.
“We worked with BSU and we tried to combat these types of things. Right now at North High School, they still have the Multi-cultural Council that I formed that addresses and informs the kids that they can feel free to talk about their teachers without anything happening to them,” he said.
Back in the old days, he remembers that it was a common procedure to collect cell phones from the kids in his class to prevent distractions, and he would have a whole drawer full to give back by the end of the day.
These days, he commended the student that had the courage to record the teacher.
“The fact that the kids took the video is a wonderful thing,” he said. “That’s going to be a deciding factor in the recourse.”