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Roosevelt school board sets special meeting Wednesday night

The public session, to address an incident in which images of two nooses were found in a middle school classroom, is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. in the Roosevelt High School auditorium.

The Roosevelt Middle School, where the noose collage

The Roosevelt Middle School, where the noose collage was found.  Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

The Roosevelt school board plans to hold a special meeting Wednesday night to discuss an incident in which images of two nooses — part of a photographic collage — were displayed in a middle school classroom, officials said.

The public meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium, according to the district. The session originally was slated for Tuesday night, but was rescheduled because of the snow.

The board planned the special meeting after images of the collage were shared widely on social media and by news outlets, sparking outrage within the Roosevelt community and elsewhere.

Three Roosevelt Middle School teachers have been placed on paid administrative leave while the incident is investigated, administrators said Monday. The race of the teachers was not available.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonprofit civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C., in a letter to the district Tuesday, said it is “deeply concerned that this incident creates a racially hostile environment for students and staff, especially given the demographics” of the student body, which is mostly Latino and African-American.

The committee urged the district to take “swift and appropriate disciplinary action” against the teachers involved and to institute implicit bias training and African-American history trainings for staff, according to the letter.

The display of “blatant racism and intolerance risks violating the promise of state and federal law meant to guarantee equal opportunities in education,” the committee wrote.

District officials said they were alerted to the collage Thursday.

The collage shows pictures of middle school teachers and students, as well as sticker hearts, phrases and words. The images of the two nooses, labeled as “back to school necklaces,” are near the bottom of the display, surrounded by the words “Ha” and “#YES.”

Information on who created the collage, how it came to be in the classroom and whether students had seen it during school hours has not been released.

“The Board of Education has zero tolerance for the display of racially offensive images,” said a statement posted on the Roosevelt school district’s website.

The Lawyers’ Committee, in its letter, expressed concern that the teachers “felt comfortable posting the pictures in the first place,” writing that it “raises serious concerns about the school’s environment.”

State Education Department officials have said they will conduct a review of the district’s policies and protocols to ensure compliance with the Dignity for All Students Act, the state’s anti-bullying legislation. “We take all allegations of misconduct against educators extremely seriously,” department officials said in a statement Monday to Newsday.

The image of the noose has historically symbolized racial violence, specifically lynchings, perpetrated against African-Americans.

The image of the nooses in the Roosevelt collage came from an internet meme with the phrase “back to school necklaces,” which carries a connotation of suicide.

The Urban Dictionary website of slang phrases defines “back to school necklaces” as another word for a noose, “due to the utter despair you feel when school starts back up again.”

Asked about the photos’ potential reference to suicide, Lawyers’ Committee spokesman Derrick Robinson said the teachers have a “responsibility to be more aware” of the racial connotation.

“I think teachers have the responsibility to educate their students whether that’s on math or science or on racially sensitive topics,” he said. “Parents expect that teachers have a certain level of professionalism in the way that they do their work.”

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