This story is an example of the sad fact that within schools, sensitivity training can only go so far – sometimes, there are unpredictable situations where teachers just have to intuitively react, and often they’re not prepared to do so. And often, these issues are much larger than they appear on the surface. Such is the case with the 8-year-old biracial student who was removed from her advanced-placement class because the teacher claimed that she was allergic to the girl’s hair moisturizer. The teacher first put the girl in the hallway, and then moved her to a different classroom where she found herself in a lower-level class with predominately African-American students.
This behavior seems bizarre enough – but add the fact that the girl was the only student of color in her school’s accelerated program, and the concerns of her angry parents, who may now sue the school (the NAACP, along with the Department of Education, have already filed a complaint), seem justified. The girl’s father, Charles Mudede, is black, and says that he had talked to his daughter about resisting pressures to straighten her hair so that she would look more like her white classmates. The product that so irritated the teacher was a compromise, Mudede said, “something light that kept her hair in its natural state.”
The girl’s parents have a host of questions to which there seem to be no adequate answers: “Why did the teacher think the problem was his daughter’s hair? Why hadn’t the school called the parents? What investigation was being done to pinpoint the source of the problem? And, finally, why did the school seem oblivious to the racial overtones of a white teacher singling out her only black student?”
Mudede says that the situation escalated because no one at the school seemed prepared to answer these basic questions. He wrote on his blog,
“When we, her parents, were later informed of this incident, we also learned that once my daughter was removed from the class, the teacher felt much better. We were also told that the teacher had experienced something like a fainting spell because of our daughter’s hair. Feeling the seriousness of this situation, we decided not to send our daughter to school until the teacher had medical proof that our daughter’s hair or something in her hair was to blame for the nausea. (The last thing you want to happen to your daughter is for a teacher to faint or vomit at the mere sight of her.)
Days passed and the school took no action. This unresponsiveness left us with no other choice than to turn to a lawyer. The whole thing is a mess. Getting entangled in a racial dilemma is something most black parents do not want for their children. It’s just not worth the trouble. Then again, like I said, if not checked and confronted, the incident will have permanent consequences for my child.”
And although the school is now making limited comments because of the threat of a lawsuit, it definitely seems as though this situation was horrifically mismanaged; without communicating privately with the student and involving the parents, of course this would turn into a humiliating ordeal for a little girl who clearly was already suffering from self-esteem issues. If the teacher had allergies, that’s something that she couldn’t help. But to target the student in such a dismissive embarrassing way shows a level of insensitivity that no teacher should have.
How do you think the situation should have been handled?
Photo from Flickr.