Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

TOP STORY >> Teacher gets suspended

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Following a two-and-a-half hour public hearing Tuesday night, the Pulaski County Special School District board declined to fire a Homer Adkins Elementary School teacher accused of telling fourth-graders that blacks are cursed.

The teacher, Phoebe Harris, instead has been suspended without pay for the remainder of the school year and for the 2006-2007 school year. She can be rehired under contract after that pending completion of sensitivity training and written apologies to offended parents.

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

“My son came home from school and asked me if he was cursed,” Johnson told district officials in December.

“I looked at him and said no. Then he asked me are black people cursed? I looked at him again and said no and asked him where did he get that from.

“He said his teacher (Mrs. Harris) told him that black people were cursed. She went on to say that Europeans didn’t like black people and that’s why they were used as slaves.

“(Harris) told the kids that if they didn’t pray they would go down there where it’s hot.”
Harris allegedly pulled the classroom door shut and warned the students that she could be fired if they told anyone what she was about to tell them. According to Johnson, she also threatened to give a failing grade to any student who betrayed that confidence.
“There is no way that this teacher should be allowed to teach this in class ever,” Johnson said in December.
“She shouldn’t be allowed to instill her beliefs in other children (besides her own).”

Harris told Johnson that Horace Smith with the District Court’s Office of Desegregation Monitoring had told her it was okay to teach that message to the children.

“I did not give her permission to teach that,” Smith, a black man himself, said in December.

“She asked me how to teach about skin color and I advised her to discuss melanin, human migration and adopting to various climates.”
Smith said Harris then asked about religion and, thinking it a new topic, he told her “We can’t teach religion, but we can teach about religion, its importance in society and different beliefs, but we cannot teach about a religion.”