A New Jersey high school teacher has been suspended after going on a profanity-laced rant during a virtual class in which he called George Floyd a criminal and denounced the Black Lives Matter movement.
For reasons that remain unclear, Howard Zlotkin, a science teacher at William L. Dickinson High School in Jersey City, N.J., turned what was to be a discussion about climate change last Wednesday into rage toward his students.
In a recording of the video obtained by WNBC, Zlotkin, who is White, is heard saying people are “whining and crying about Black Lives Matter.” He used expletives in saying that Floyd – who was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin last year – was a “criminal” who “got arrested and he got killed because he wouldn’t comply,” according to the video.
The school first learned of Zlotkin’s misconduct when Timmia Williams, 17, a senior, filmed the class and her mother told school authorities immediately. When they did not get an answer, they contacted WNBC, which first reported the story.
The district’s authorities said Zlotkin was removed Thursday and is under investigation.
Zlotkin said Sunday that he could not comment in detail because of the ongoing investigation but said his comments were taken “out of context.”
“I am being judged on a snapshot out of a 60-minute class,” he said.
“I tell the students it’s all about facts and I was teaching those facts, I am a science teacher,” he added “My little snapshot that was posted to the world was out of this context.”
Zlotkin also teaches at Hudson County Community College and has been suspended with pay, according to The New York Times.
Mussab Ali, president of the Jersey City Board of Education, confirmed Sunday that Zlotkin has been suspended with pay as the school board investigates. Ali added that Zlotkin has been a teacher in the district for 20 years and has tenure.
“His comments are not representative of the values of the board of education,” Ali said in an interview Sunday, adding that the board passed a resolution after Floyd’s death that called racism “a public health crisis” because the student population at Dickinson High School is largely composed of minorities.
According to U.S. News and World Report, 85% of the students are minorities, including 47% who are Hispanic and 15% who are Black.
Timmia Williams was in good spirits Wednesday after finding out that she had been accepted to college. She called her mother, Margie Nieves, and they planned to go out for dinner to celebrate. Hours later, Williams called her mother again in tears, saying her landscape and design teacher had gone on a rant against the students.
Williams told The Washington Post that the students were asked to do reports on climate change. When Williams turned hers in on Wednesday, the teacher asked about the effects of human actions on global warming. The teacher then brought up the subject of Black Lives Matter and his negative opinion of it.
Williams said Zlotkin focused on Black students while talking about Floyd’s killing and the movement, then picked four Black students and asked them to write an essay about why Black lives matter.
Zlotkin aggressively responded when one of the students argued that Zlotkin was showing his White privilege, Williams said. In the video, the teacher is heard using an expletive after being called privileged.
To the shock of both mother and daughter, Zlotkin was back in class on Thursday and cursed at the students again. When Williams told him she had not written the essay, video shows that he told her she was “full of” an expletive. When a student tried to defend Williams, the teacher kicked a Black student out of the virtual class.
In an interview Sunday, Nieves said the incident has had a big effect on her daughter, who has been having trouble sleeping since the episode. The mother said the incident has left her daughter doubting her self-worth.
“She now asks me if I accept her for being African American,” said Nieves, who is Hispanic. “She feels like society is looking at her differently for the color of her skin.”
Nieves added that she is not satisfied with the school’s decision to suspend the teacher with pay, accusing school officials of not checking on her daughter.
Despite the stress of the situation, Williams says it was the right thing to do to stand up for herself and denounce the teacher’s offensive behavior.
“The more we stay quiet, we won’t be heard,” she said in an interview Sunday. “If you speak up then people start paying attention” she added, saying that Zlotkin had used obscenities in front of the students before and that she had denounced it to the school’s principal.