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High Tech Elementary teacher placed on leave after reading poem with offensive word

The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education building is shown in this photo, Sept. 15, 2017.
Milan Kovacevic
The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education building is shown in this photo, Sept. 15, 2017.

A High Tech Elementary teacher was placed on administrative leave last Tuesday pending an investigation, after reading aloud a poem to her students that included offensive language. Amy Glancy, a fourth grade teacher at the charter school in Point Loma who appears to be white, was reading the poem "Incident," by Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen.

“The lesson was intended to demonstrate that the poet’s words can evoke emotion — in this case, anger and sadness. Unfortunately, it triggered some very big emotions for the students that I did not anticipate,” Glancy wrote in an email to parents, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Francine Maxwell, chairperson of the San Diego-based Black Men and Women United joined KPBS Midday Edition to talk about how teachers should approach the introduction of inflammatory, racist words and subjects in a way that educates and doesn’t injure students.


Maxwell said Glancy should have handled the situation differently.

"The problem is that she should've known better than to use the word. She actually could have picked another poem if she wanted to, given that we are in Black History Month, but throughout the year there should not be those types of poems read because it just re-inflicts trauma," Maxwell said.

Maxwell said racist language can cause emotional damage to not only students, but to anyone.

"You make someone feel less than, and we know that they're not. We know that men and women are all created equal," Maxwell said.

She said teachers should look to their resources when putting together a lesson plan that could consist of sensitive subjects.


"A lot of Caucasian people have a problem with going and asking for help and asking for advice. Even if someone would just take the time and ask somebody at a grocery store, have a conversation with the mailman, or here's a thought, call one of your African or African American colleagues and show them your lesson plan and then discuss it prior to introducing it to a diverse population that are very sensitive," Maxwell said.

Maxwell said the families impacted by the incident voiced their concerns, and action was taken based on that.

"I believe that when they look at their investigation they will see that they had an opportunity in the past to interject some extra training and also some extra curriculum. So I'm looking forward to them reaching out to a third party, whether it's Black Men and Women United or another organization to help them relook at what their structure is for training, and also how the curriculum is written that this particular teacher or other teachers want to follow," Maxwell said. "I look at this as an opportunity that we can begin to build something better and just put a pause in what has happened."