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Milton teachers union demands apology from district for penalizing teacher over alleged racial comment on police

The Milton teachers' union is demanding an apology from the district for putting a Pierce Middle School teacher on paid administrative leave for a comment she made during a remote-learning discussion with students.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The Milton Educators Association is demanding that the town’s schools superintendent publicly apologize to a teacher who was accused of making a comment about police being racist during a class discussion.

The teachers union joins a large group of Milton parents who recently wrote a letter to the middle school principal and superintendent in support of the teacher, Zakia Jarrett, who was placed on administrative leave and has since been reinstated. The June 6 letter was signed by 400 people.

In the statement Tuesday, the teachers union demanded that the superintendent “publicly apologize to a Pierce Middle School teacher wrongly accused of presenting inaccurate or inappropriate material about racial prejudice in one of her courses.”

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According to the union, Jarrett was initially put on paid administrative leave on Friday after the district received a short video clip of her discussing the issue of racial bias during a remote-learning session.

The 13-second clip is of a lesson on a Langston Hughes’s work, according to Scott McLennan, a spokesman for the union. In the brief video, a copy of which was obtained by The Boston Globe, Jarrett appears to be caught in midsentence, saying, “'also, sometimes, like in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, being killed by racist white people, so, ah, which many of the cops are as well, but. . . ” Then the clip abruptly ends.

Milton Educators Association officials said they immediately challenged the decision to put Jarrett on paid administrative leave and the district rescinded its decision later that night. The union said the district’s failure to defend and support Jarrett was “improper” and “left her vulnerable to harassment.”

“Public education is a cornerstone of democracy," association president Dyanne Crowley said in the statement. “It is where we model and teach civics and discourse. The district’s decision to punish Ms. Jarrett at the close of a difficult week in American life — perhaps the most tumultuous week that many middle-school-aged students have witnessed — is contrary to all that the institution of public education represents.”

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Crowley said the remote-learning session should not have been filmed in the first place, and that Jarrett was “a victim of an individual’s willful violation of the Milton Public Schools’ policy on distance learning."

“The manner in which the district responded to the inappropriate filming of a lesson, in violation of Milton Public Schools practice, undermines all educators who are responsive to students’ concerns about what is happening in the country around violence and brutality against our black and brown communities — and our doing so in this challenging remote-learning environment," said Crowley.

Jarrett, who teaches sixth-grade English at Pierce Middle School, also weighed in on the statement released by the union, stating that there was a “need for deeper work concerning racial justice in the Milton Public Schools.” She also criticized the district’s plans to hold a “Day of Reflection” on June 11 to discuss students’ questions or concerns about racial justice.

“Creating the space to speak in constructive, open and honest ways about race must be instilled in the mission of Milton Public Schools,” Jarrett said in the statement. “This is not easy work, but our students, educators, and community need it to happen.”

In the statement, the teachers union called on the district for “a broader community-wide initiative to address racial justice,” “changes in the school system’s policies and curriculum," and “greater diversity within the teaching ranks and to provide students with diverse perspectives.”

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Milton Public Schools Superintendent Mary Gormley did not immediately return an e-mail seeking comment.


Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22.