Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

TOP STORY >> Im not a racist, teacher responds

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

The Homer Adkins Elementary teacher accused of making inappropriate racial and religious comments to her students may still be in the classroom, but shes not yet out of the woods.

What I said in the classroom is not what was said in the newspaper, teacher Phoebe Harris said Monday, before declining to say what she had told the students.

Harris allegedly told the students at the Jacksonville school that blacks were cursed and de-scended from the devil, according to an account from Laura Johnson, mother of a black child in that class.

As proof of that, Harris said, The school boards through investigating, and Im still teaching.

The Pulaski County Special School District board hasnt considered the matter, but district officials, including Beverly Ruthven, director of elementary education, and Brenda Bowles, director of diversity and multicultural education, met with two parents last week and forwarded their information to the department of human resources, both administrators said Monday.
We collected the information and turned it over to Rhonda Harnish, Bowles said.

I am not a racist, Harris said Monday. Nobody who knows me thinks Im a racist.

Harris refused, however, to say what it was she told fourth graders in a class she was teaching about two weeks ago.
Im not answering your questions, she said.

I better not answer that, she said when asked if it was true that she was the wife of a Baptist preacher.

The district planned to interview Harris and conclude the investigation possibly as early as Tuesday evening, then recommend what if any disciplinary action is appropriate, said Interim Super-intendent James Sharpe. He said Bowles, Ruthven and Harnish of the human re-sources department were the in-vestigators.

The district will deal fairly with Harris, acc-ording to school policy and state and federal laws, said Sharpe, but the results would not be made public.

My decision will be based on those three factors, he said.

Sharpe said if Harris had made the remarks attributed to her by the accusing parents, such behavior would be inappropriate.
Harris told Johnson, one of the parents, that Horace Smith with the Office of Desegregation Monitoring had told her it was all right to teach that message to the children.

Johnson said her son told her that Harris warned the students that she would be fired if they repeated what she was going to tell them. Johnson said Harris told the children they would go down there where its hot, if they dont pray.

I did not give her permission to teach that, Smith, himself a black man, said on Thursday. She asked me how to teach about skin color and I advised her to discuss melanin, human migration and adapting to various climates.

He said she then asked about religion and, thinking it a new topic, he told her, We cant teach religion, but we can teach about religion, its importance in society and different beliefs, but we cannot teach about a religion.