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No discrimination found in investigation triggered by Utah teacher’s social media video

Teacher who said classroom was ‘built for nonwhite students’ has been on paid leave

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William Penn Elementary in Millcreek on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. A teacher at the school in July said she had decorated her classroom with images of people of color and stocked her classroom library with books largely featuring children and adults of color.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

An investigation has found “no discrimination of any kind” in the classroom of a teacher who was placed on paid leave after Granite School District officials learned of a video on her personal social media account in which she stated her classroom was “built for nonwhite students.”

The investigation, which found no discrimination in her classroom or among students, found the teacher did not violate district policy or state law, according to a statement from the district.

The newly hired fourth-grade teacher at William Penn Elementary School in Millcreek has been on paid leave since late August while district officials investigated statements made on the video, which came to their attention the first week of school.

In the video posted in July, the teacher said: “For the first time in my life, I’m going to be teaching at a majority-white school, and I’m kind of interested to see how students and parents react to my classroom, or if they even notice anything about it, because it’s built for nonwhite students.”

According to the school district’s statement released Thursday, the investigation focused on whether there was an unsafe environment for students and if any district policies had been violated.

“Additionally, we have found no evidence that the employee taught any unapproved curriculum or shared inappropriate content or materials,” the statement said.

The statement notes that employees, on their own time and in their personal lives, have free speech rights.

However, the investigation “did find cause for corrective action and we have disciplined the employee as appropriate and consistent with the findings of that investigation. In accordance with state law, we do not share specifics related to individual personnel matters,” according to the statement.

The district declined to name the employee, due to “multiple threats being levied against the employee, the school and the district,” the statement said.

“We also anticipate a transfer of this employee to another location within the district that has yet to be determined,” it said.

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Kids prepare to ride bikes in front of William Penn Elementary in Millcreek on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. A teacher at the school in July said she had decorated her classroom with images of people of color and stocked her classroom library with books largely featuring children and adults of color.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The teacher issued the following statement that was released by the school district:

“I sincerely regret the disruption brought to the school, faculty, community, families and above all, my students. The expectations in my class are to be safe, responsible and respectful. I built my classroom for all learners and to be welcoming to all families. I have and will continue to ensure that every student feels welcome and represented in my classroom, and I strive to provide an inclusive environment and to ensure the safety and comfort of all my students.

“I also want to reiterate the importance of parental engagement and welcome their involvement in the education of their children. I am committed to adhering to state and district approved standards, curriculum and materials to ensure the success of my students.”

In the video, the teacher talked about classroom materials and books in her classroom library.

“If you look around and you interact with some of the materials I have, you’ll notice that there’s like, no white kids represented in that,” the teacher said.

The teacher said in the video “there’s just not a lot of adherence to the status quo on just that like base level of my classroom. So I’m kind of wondering if I feel like some parents might have something to say about that. If my experience with posh white parents in the past holds true for this year, we’ll see.”

In June 2021, the Utah State Board of Education passed a rule prohibiting instruction or professional training by a school district or charter school “that promotes or endorses that a student or educator’s sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or membership in any other protected class is inherently superior or inferior to another sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other protected class.”

It also precludes instruction that “a student or educator bears responsibility for the past actions of individuals from the same sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other protected class as the student or educator.”