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A Palmdale history teacher has been placed on administrative leave for the second time in two months after students accused her of repeatedly making inappropriate and racist comments targeting Latino and black children in class.
Students at Space and Aeronautics Gateway to Exploration Magnet Academy said that the teacher has praised President Trump’s border wall, saying Mexicans should go back to their country, and that she would “bring back” slavery. The teacher, who has not been identified, also said she would torture students and made comments about eating human flesh, classmates told school officials.
Latinos make up the largest student population in the school district — about 70% — followed by black students, data show.
Ryan Beardsley, assistant superintendent of human resources at the Palmdale School District, confirmed Friday that the teacher is on leave as officials investigate. She was first placed on leave in late October after students brought concerns about her comments to staff members.
The Palmdale School District hired an independent investigator following the first allegations, and the teacher returned to school a week ago, on Dec. 13. By Monday evening, however, administrators had received reports from parents that the teacher was again making inappropriate comments.
Beardsley said the school district has hired another independent investigator to examine the latest accusations and noted the teacher was placed on leave Tuesday.
He declined to reveal the exact comments but said they were “racial in nature.”
School officials said that “appropriate action has been taken” regarding the first investigation but that details and results of the inquiry would not be disclosed because they are confidential.
“Employees are entitled to contractual rights, labor law and due process,” Beardsley said. The teacher has been employed with the Palmdale School District for about six years and is tenured.
At a news conference Thursday, students said the teacher’s classroom is covered in Trump memorabilia, including posters and mugs. Her assignments veer into political views, the students say, citing one example in which the teacher asked the class to underline all phrases having to do with Mexicans, immigration and Donald Trump in a news article about the U.S.-Mexico border.
“It would be uncomfortable for me as a child of an undocumented person to go in that class and suck up all her words and her nasty comments,” eighth-grader Jossylin Villegas said during the conference. “Imagine being an hour in that class and having to hear her talk about how we shouldn’t be here, about how we live off of white people’s money and we’re just stealing their jobs.”
Another student, Miguel Gonzales, said the teacher failed him because of his race, even though he completed all class assignments. His mother requested a change in his class schedule. He said the history teacher would give him “the death stare” while walking down the hallways at school.
“She would make you feel weak,” the boy said.
Yaretzy Martinez, 13, said she received detention after she skipped history class because of the teacher’s remarks.
“I didn’t want to go to my teacher’s class that would talk bad about Hispanics,” she said. “I don’t think I was supposed to be in there. I feel like she has no right to talk bad about our race.”
One student who is not in the history teacher’s class said she was “horrified” but “not surprised” about the allegations. At the news conference, students said they wanted to ensure the teacher didn’t return to any classroom again.
“We don’t want her at any other school because we don’t think she’s ready to teach,” Yaretzy said. “She said what she said, and she’s not going to change her mind.”
Beardsley said mental health professionals have reached out to students and counseling services are available at the school. Classes resume Jan. 13 after winter break.
It’s not the first time the Palmdale School District has been embroiled in controversy over the actions of staff members.
In September, four elementary school teachers were placed on leave after a photo of them smiling and holding a noose went viral. According to officials, the teachers’ pose was not motivated by racism.
The teachers and the principal, who took the photograph, said in a report they didn’t know of the racial hatred a noose symbolizes. Instead, they told investigator the photo was meant as a “hang in there until summer” joke — bemoaning that it was almost the end of the school year and that “we’ve reached the end of our rope.”