ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Six teachers in the Rochester City School District are currently on leave after they exchanged “racist and demeaning” text messages about students, according to RCSD Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small.
According to the superintendent on Friday, the district will “use all forms of available discipline up to and including termination.”
“On Tuesday I was made aware of text messages sent by our staff,” Myers-Small said at a Friday afternoon press conference. “I was horrified by the demeaning references used to describe our children.”
Myers-Small said six teachers were put on leave Thursday. She said among the six suspended teachers, five were names shown in images of the text messages in question being shared online. Those five teachers include Abby Bardanis, Jorge Degro, Samantha DiNoto, Derek Kelly, and Alicia Renner.
The superintendent did not say what school or schools the teachers work at. She said she was limited on what could be shared as the investigation was ongoing and could not provide an estimate on how long the investigation may take.
While the investigation remains in its early stages, the superintendent made it clear how she feels:
“The event happened and that is concerning to me,” Myers-Small said. “There’s a difference between saying things you shouldn’t and humiliating a student. The images of the words I read were humiliating.”
Rochester Teacher Association President Adam Urbanski told News 8 Friday that the investigation remains ongoing and he added “everyone deserves due process.”
“As more information becomes available, and we look at the evidence, we will move forward, but it’s concerning anytime, whenever someone does something to demean and humiliate a young person,” the superintendent said.
Myers-Small said administrators and other teachers have been assigned to replace the six teachers while they are on leave. She said the district will offer trauma, illness, and grief teams to be at schools to assist students as they navigate the situation. She also said this matter was personal to her.
“This situation is so bothersome to me because when I was in fourth grade, I had a teacher who told me I was never going to be smart enough to be good at math because of my skin color,” Myers-Small said. “I was sequestered as a student and had to prove myself.”
Local resident Jennifer Lopez, whose daughter is mentioned in the text messages, said she is considering therapy for her daughter.
“I have kinda been under a lot of stress. I barely can sleep and it’s just been on my mind and it’s just roaming and roaming,” said Lopez. “Even today I work with children too, I was at work today and couldn’t even hold it on you know what I mean? Because it’s just sitting and sitting I was in tears crying.”
Two teachers from School 17, who wanted to remain anonymous, said conditions inside the school are so bad, with verbal and physical assaults against teachers the daily norm. Multiple teachers have even had to undergo numerous surgeries from these assaults, something they says is under-reported by the district. While not excusing the language, they said the chats are likely the only way these teachers have to vent their frustrations.
Myers says that no excuse. “The text messages, the images that I read were…humiliating.”
There is no information on how long the investigation will take at this time.
Superintendent’s full statement:
“I am aware of images of text messages that were exchanged by several staff about students at one of our schools. I am horrified at the racist and demeaning references and language used to describe children…our children! The staff members have been put on leave and the District will use all forms of available discipline up to and including termination.
Our scholars have experienced tremendous trauma, specifically over the past two years. I want to remind all RCSD staff that words indeed matter and how we speak about our scholars is extremely important. Behaviors and mindsets that humiliate and devalue our scholars and their families are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
In our District Strategic Plan, there are eight core beliefs. Two of them state: ‘We embrace diversity and commit to the eradication of racism and all forms of discrimination and oppression, and we respect and honor the dignity of all individuals.’
It is vitally important that our District community, which includes the Board of Education, staff, unions, and families, stand together. Anything that does not lift our students up and harness their potential has no place in our classrooms.”
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.