HILTON, N.Y. (WROC) — In response to a lesson preparing students for some of the racial language in a popular piece of literature, some parents in Hilton became outraged when a photo appeared online showing the “N” word and others like it displayed for a high school class.
Thursday, civil rights leaders gathered in front of Hilton High School asking New York State Attorney General Letitia James to launch an investigation into what they say are civil rights violations. They are also asking the Department of Education to review the Hilton class curriculum to see if it meets the education threshold.
“Today, we put you all on notice that children have responded to the uncomfortable situation to the magnitude of reaching out to the State Department of Education and to the office of the State Attorney General,” says Justin Morris with Arc of Justice Rochester.
Reverend Kirsten Foye with the Arc of Justice says they have heard the cries of those in the community including parents and students who had to endure the lesson plan where the N-word and other derogatory words were displayed for the class, preparing them for “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Leaders said the teacher put up the lesson in an attempt to be ‘deliberately provocative’.
“For the teacher to take it upon himself to design a lesson snd spell out words that have been long deemed and accepted as inhumane and derogatory, and painful, and racist…is unacceptable. And we’re here to demand accountability,” says Rev. Foye.
Mothers today, saying they felt their children were singled out. “My child was outraged, he felt offended, he felt picked out,” says parent Jessyca Roberts.
In a statement from the Hilton School District last week they said the following:
The Hilton School District is aware of language that recently appeared in print during a lesson in an English 10 class that caused concern and offense to members of our school community. The language was used in context with the book To Kill a Mockingbird, a literary selection that has been taught at the high school level for many years. The book sparks conversations that are indeed uncomfortable, but the district believes these conversations need to occur in a safe environment that allows all to participate. While we want to be respectful in never speaking these offensive words, we want our students to learn about why these words have negative connotations. The slide in question is one part of a presentation preparing students to read the classic text that is narrated by a six-year old girl, Scout Finch, who lives in Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s. Through her eyes the reader experiences the court case of Tom Robinson, a person of color wrongly accused of a crime, and the wisdom of her father, Atticus Finch, who is the defense attorney for Mr. Robinson. There were several steps taken by the instructor in order to prepare the class for the racial slurs and controversial themes in the book. The objective of the lesson was to ensure students understand the difference between the connotation and denotation of words. The lesson moves from commonly used words to unacceptable terms. Prior to displaying the slide in question, the instructor offered all students the opportunity to leave the room without any ramifications or judgement. The instructor numbered the words on the slide to serve as a code so that everyone could refer to the words without saying them out loud. The closure for the lesson prompts students to consider, “Why might it be important to discuss these labels and their context and connotation before starting To Kill a Mockingbird?” The Hilton School District’s equity work includes opportunities to empower learners to be agents of positive social change. The curriculum provides the opportunity to learn about perspectives beyond one’s own scope. The Hilton School District will continue with its equity and inclusivity work in earnest and will keep our learning community informed as we move forward.