Hope Antonelli Saugerties teacher accused of racism after giving assignment in which high school educator said George Floyd died of heart attack and not at hands of police.
An upstate New York school district is under pressure to fire a ninth grade high school teacher who told students during class that George Floyd died of a heart attack and drug overdose during an arrest last year that saw the black man die at the hands of Minneapolis police.
English teacher Hope Antonelli made the claim about Floyd as part of a ninth-grade English assignment on Friday, The Times Herald-Record reported.
The assignment asked students to ‘create a bold topic/thematic sentence.’
‘George Floyd did not die because (Derek) Chauvin’s knee was on his neck,’ said the assignment, which has since made the rounds on social media.
‘He died from a heart attack and drug overdose. However, because Chauvin used excessive force and failed to render aid, he was convicted on all three counts by a jury of his peers. (Arrest was over a counterfeit $20 bill).’
Assignment sparks outrage amongst parents
Chauvin was convicted last month for Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020. In video footage of Floyd’s arrest, Chauvin was seen pressing his knee on Floyd.
During deliberations, it was revealed an autopsy by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner found that while a heart problem and drug use ‘contributed’ to Floyd’s death, the primary cause was compression on his neck and police restraint. Martin Tobin, an expert in respiratory physiology, testified that he believed Floyd died of a low level of oxygen.
The assignment’s other example discussed whether Chauvin should get a new trial upon it having been revealed, black juror, Brandon Mitchell, had been previously involved with BLM protests against the officers.
‘New evidence has surfaced that he could not have been forthcoming in his statements,’ the assignment reads. ‘Should the Derek Chauvin case be retried because of Brandon Mitchell. Why or Why Not?’
The assignment has provoked outrage of parents and sparked a review by the Saugerties Central School District.
Sakinah Irizarry who has fifth- and seventh-grade students in the district, told NBC News the assignment was harmful regardless of race because of the traumatic experience it used for a lesson.
‘Even if we were not talking about this case, specifically, it takes the death of a person, I’d say, from a very cold and distant point of view,’ she said.
Empathy in education
‘I keep coming back to empathy. It is not an empathetic point of view of a person who died, it is blaming a person who’s died for their own death,’ she added. ‘That chips away at empathy.’
Irizarry said she has been pushing for change in the district, where she’s lived for 17 years, since 2017. She has advocated for a number of changes to address racism in curriculum and student behavior, including a restorative justice model and cultural competency trainings.
Her hope for restorative justice over punitive discipline is why she isn’t calling for the teacher’s termination, but a different form of accountability.
The assignment has since led to allegations of racism and calls for the teacher to step down.
Superintendent Kirk Rienhart responding to the fracas said a student told them they were uncomfortable with the assignment on Friday. It wasn’t clear how many students had been given the assignment.
‘We immediately got in contact with the (student’s) family,’ Reinhardt said, according to the Herald-Record. ‘Our goal as a school community is to see that all our students feel they are seen, heard, respected and valued.’
Reinhardt said all teachers are required to undergo annual bias training, under the state’s Dignity for All Students Act. He did not know if they receive any formal certification for completing that training according to recordonline.
Reinhardt said the matter also will be addressed at the next meeting of the district’s Diversity Committee, which meets the third Wednesday of each month. He also is going to speak to all staff members as well at the next superintendent’s conference, on Tuesday next week.
The superintendent wouldn’t say if the teacher was facing discipline.