MILPITAS, Calif. — As Milpitas school district officials continue their investigation into a teacher who wore blackface to school last Thursday, the superintendent said letting the teacher finish out the school day after being told to wash off the makeup was a mistake.
“In hindsight, we should have removed him immediately once we found that he had the blackface, instead of just having him wash it off, but that’s in hindsight,” Superintendent Cheryl Jordan said Monday afternoon in an interview at the district’s headquarters.
Jordan also said the teacher was made to change out of the costume he was wearing, which was apparently intended to emulate the rapper and activist, Common.
The acknowledgment from the superintendent confirms what students at the school told this news organization previously — that the district took no firm disciplinary action against the teacher on Halloween.
It was also revealed Monday afternoon the teacher — who was placed on administrative leave Saturday morning, “after further investigation” into the incident — is being paid during his leave, Jordan said.
District officials, citing confidentiality requirements around personnel issues, won’t identify the teacher, but said he was able to teach part of the morning last Thursday in blackface.
At one point, the teacher imitated a commercial featuring Common, who is the spokesperson for Microsoft’s AI Technology, during a lecture that was captured on video. The video was shared online by another student who received it in a message, causing widespread outrage and consternation, and some calls for the teacher to be fired for his actions.
Although the district hasn’t identified the teacher, students say the clip shows the inside of a Milpitas High School teacher’s classroom who previously taught history, and has more recently taught engineering and design classes.
The clip has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on Twitter, and the incident has led to conversations in the district around the racist background of blackface, which was historically used to denigrate and demean African Americans, school board president Chris Norwood said.
Norwood and Jordan, as well as several other administrators and teachers, met with a couple dozen students Monday morning to discuss how the incident has made them feel, and how to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again in the culturally diverse Milpitas schools system.
Some of those same students, some African American and others from different backgrounds, also helped lead a lunchtime open discussion on the topic for any Milpitas High School students who wanted to share their thoughts or concerns, Norwood said.
It’s unclear how long the investigation into the incident will take to finish, but Jordan said officials are moving as quickly as possible. She also said due to confidentiality requirements, the district will not make public the outcome of the investigation and any possible disciplinary action.
Norwood said even though Milpitas has a “rich history of diversity,” more work is needed to establish a “common history” and spread cultural sensitivity.
“The African American community is up in arms. This is unacceptable. And then you have another end of the spectrum wondering what all the noise is about,” he said.
“There’s depth to the history of blackface that needs to be known and shared, just like there’s depth and history to other cultures that people may not even know,” he said.
“Blackface is a cultural issue for everybody, but it’s rooted in the racist acts of America.”
He and Jordan both said the incident from last week has sparked a unique moment where students can take on leadership roles in helping to shape solutions to cultural divides.
“You do have a heightened sense of awareness right now. There are people who don’t understand what blackface is,” Norwood said.
“It’s deep work that we’ve got to do,” Norwood said.
“We do have an opportunity … to accelerate some of that work, because we have student voices who want to be a part of the discussion,” he said.
©2019 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)