New York AG Letitia James announced on Wednesday, May 29 that the state has reached an agreement with The Chapel School in Bronxville to “ensure equal educational access for students regardless of race and to provide all students at the school an environment free of harassment and discrimination.”
The settlement comes after Rebecca Antinozzi, a former fifth-grade teacher at the school who has since been fired, was accused of staging mock slave auctions. A parent of a student alleged that African-American students were placed in imaginary chains and were bid on by other students.
In response, the school will be making “significant” changes to its approach to diversity and inclusion, James said.
According to James, the investigation, which was launched in March, determined that in two separate fifth-grade social studies classes, a teacher asked all of the African-American students in each class to raise their hands, and then instructed them to exit the classroom and stand in the hallway.
The teacher then placed imaginary chains or “shackles,” on these students’ necks, wrists, and ankles, and had them walk back into the classroom. The teacher then instructed the African-American students to line up against the wall, and proceeded to conduct a simulated auction of the African-American students in front of the rest of the class.
“These ‘auctions’ reenacted the sale of African-American students to their white counterparts,” James noted. “The investigation found that the teacher’s reenactments in the two classes had a profoundly negative effect on all of the students present – especially the African-American students – and the school community at large.”
James noted that the investigation found that there were previous parental complaints about the school’s lack of racial sensitivity, predating the mock slave auctions. The investigation determined that families had previously made complaints relating to unequal discipline of students on the basis of race, a lack of racial sensitivity and awareness in school curricula, and a lack of diversity among the teaching faculty.
The agreement between James’ office and the school will require the latter to:
- Hire a Chief Diversity Officer, subject to the Attorney General’s approval;
- Develop and submit a Staff Diversification Plan proposing steps the school will take annually to increase minority representation among the school’s teaching faculty;
- Commit new financial aid to maintain and increase diversity within the student body;
- Submit a new Code of Conduct, subject to the Attorney General’s approval, governing all school community members and specifically addressing racial and ethnic discrimination and harassment, as well as other prohibited behaviors;
- Submit a School Discipline Reform Plan, intended to ensure equal application of disciplinary techniques to all students, with an emphasis on providing constructive feedback and teaching alternative or replacement behaviors to students;
- Identify and retain a Diversity Consultant to assist the school in developing training protocols to train students and school employees on racial/ethnic diversity and sensitivity in the educational setting, with training to follow no less than twice per academic year;
- Create a formal complaint procedure that students or parents may use to notify the school of complaints regarding harassment or discrimination, and publicize the new procedure to school community members; and
- Maintain records of complaints, investigations of complaints, and the implementation of other elements of relief in the agreement.
“Every young person – regardless of race – deserves the chance to attend school free of harassment, bias, and discrimination,” James said. “Lessons designed to separate children on the basis of race have no place in New York classrooms, or in classrooms throughout this country.
"I thank The Chapel School for agreeing to take measures that directly address the issues of race, diversity, and inclusion at the school. My office will continue efforts to promote safe environments where all students can learn and thrive.”
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