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Grandmother seeks action against teacher for remark to grandson

Roberta Williams, 49, of Middle Island, meets her

Roberta Williams, 49, of Middle Island, meets her 8-year-old grandson at the bus stop as he comes home from school on the afternoon of Oct. 17, 2018. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

A Longwood district fourth-grader says a teacher in his elementary school art class altered the student’s self-portrait on Monday so the nose was bigger and, when the child asked why, explained that African-Americans have “big noses.”

The 8-year-old is African-American, and he said his teacher is white.

The student's grandmother, Roberta Williams, 49, of Middle Island, who is African-American, called Wednesday for action from the district, saying it should provide the teacher with sensitivity training or remove him from the classroom.

“I don’t want this to happen again to any kid, regardless if the child is African-American, white, green, blue, yellow, it doesn’t matter,” Williams said. “No teacher should ever, ever say anything like that to a child.”

Superintendent Michael R. Lonergan said in a statement that the district was made aware Tuesday of a “misconstrued statement from a teacher to a student.”

“The district has a zero-tolerance policy for any discriminatory behavior or comment, and central administration is currently investigating the incident,” Lonergan's statement said. “We trust that any miscommunication or offense taken by the student and family will be clarified through further communication. Longwood continues its commitment to ensuring a safe and supportive environment for all students throughout the district.”

Newsday could not confirm the identity of the teacher.

The student — the family asked that he not be named — attends West Middle Island Elementary School.

During art class Monday, the student told reporters on Wednesday, he was working on a class project, a drawing of himself in the U.S. Army in World War I.

When he asked his teacher for help drawing the nose, the teacher erased it and then “he drew my nose really big,” the student said. “I asked him, ‘Why did you draw my nose really big?’ and he said because all African-Americans had big noses.”

The student said he didn’t know what that meant at first. It wasn’t until later that day, when he was telling his grandmother how his day at school went and she reacted negatively, that he understood the meaning, he said.

“My mom and grandma, we talk about, don’t let anybody be racist and racism," he said. The student said it made him feel "a little bit" bad about himself.

Williams said when her grandson related what happened, "I found it very disturbing because, why would you tell a kid that African-American noses are big? Take African-American out, so you’re telling a child that he has a big nose?”

Williams said she was surprised because West Middle Island Elementary is a “really good school,” and her grandson loves art class in particular.

On Tuesday, the student’s grandmother and mother contacted the school. Williams said she was contacted and told they were looking into the incident. Then, she said, the teacher called her.

The teacher “tried to explain and say that my grandson misunderstood, but he simply was telling his grandmother what happened in school,” Williams said. “He didn’t even realize that the teacher said or did anything wrong.”

Williams said she hopes the district takes care of the situation.

Of her grandson, she said, “I never want him to ever feel like he’s less-than because of his color."

The student said he has art every Monday.

“I’m scared to go back to art class, because I don't know what's going to happen,” he said. “There’s no one in my art class, there’s only kids and my teacher. I’m scared what’s going to happen.”

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