The image was part of a collage displayed in a...

The image was part of a collage displayed in a classroom of Roosevelt Middle School. Credit: Barry Sloan

The Roosevelt school district is investigating a fourth person's involvement in an incident in which an image of two nooses — part of a photographic collage — was displayed last month in a middle school classroom, a district official who asked not to be named said Wednesday.

Two teachers were fired and a third was suspended by the school board Tuesday night in connection with the incident, according to district officials and residents who attended the meeting. The move came five weeks after the district placed three teachers on paid administrative leave. 

School officials have not named the employees involved, citing confidentiality rules. Remarks by district administrators and community residents this week and last indicated that at least three classroom teachers were involved in the incident, and that a continuing investigation focused on a fourth.

Marnie Hazelton, the district's superintendent, would not discuss details Wednesday because of rules protecting employee privacy.

She estimated that about 100 middle school students had been "emotionally scarred" in recent weeks, both by publicity surrounding the nooses incident and by the sudden loss of three of their teachers. Hazelton added that the district is doing its best through conversations with students to help them "navigate" the recent upheaval.

"What people fail to understand is that we have had approximately a hundred students affected by this. They have developed connections with teachers," the schools chief said during a phone interview. "I try to remind everyone involved that there are students who are hurting." 

Hazelton said she hopes the district's investigation can be brought to a close relatively quickly, but that it would end only at the point "when the last person involved is disciplined." She did not elaborate. 

On Wednesday afternoon, Hazelton also met briefly with about 50 staffers at the middle school to answer questions about the board's action and related issues. 

"I think it's important that they know the superintendent believes in them and supports them, and that we're working toward the same vision and goal," she said. 

Roosevelt officials were first alerted to the collage by a teacher on Feb. 6. The display showed pictures of middle school teachers and students, as well as sticker hearts, phrases and words. The image of the nooses, labeled as "back to school necklaces," was near the bottom of the display, surrounded by the words "Ha" and "#YES."

District authorities and residents concerned about the incident said it is not clear whether those displaying the collage acted out of malice or a bungled attempt to be humorous. In any event, they said, the question is irrelevant because the image of nooses was so clearly offensive —especially in a school system where the enrollment is largely African-American.

Half of the district's 3,200-plus students are Latino and about 49 percent are black, according to state Education Department data for the 2017-18 school year, the most recent available.

"Whether it was done out of ignorance, whether it was done out of spite, we do not want those teachers back in the classroom," said the Rev. Arthur L. Mackey, senior pastor of Mount Sinai Baptist Church Cathedral in Roosevelt. 

Mackey, who called last month  for firing "anyone involved in this racist act," praised the superintendent and school board on Wednesday for their latest actions.

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