An elementary school gym teacher at Rochester Exploration Elementary Charter School for Science & Technology in upstate New York has been suspended amid allegations that he pushed a 6-year-old student so forcefully to the ground last week, one of the child’s front teeth came out and the other one had to be pulled.
According to the New York Daily News, Kia Thompson-White received the terrifying news last Friday via text that her son Marlon K’Harii Williams had been “disciplined” after allegedly misbehaving at school.
“My grandmother texts me and says, ‘We have to go to school at 4 p.m., they’re saying K’Harii was misbehaving and the teacher had to restrain him, knocking his tooth out.’ I immediately left,” Thompson-White told WHAM, a Rochester news station.
Upon arriving at the school, Thompson-White says she was informed that her son and the teacher had been alone in a room when the incident occurred, but she was given no explanation as to why.
“I got in trouble,” K’Harii told WHAM. “And he slammed me down on the floor and my tooth got knocked out.”
At some point during the incident, K’Harii began yelling and flipping over chairs, WHAM reports. It is unclear if this was in response to being attacked by a teacher, or if that’s the excuse the teacher under investigation used to justify the attack in the first place, but administrators and additional teachers eventually came into the room and held K’Harii down.
The 6-year-old boy was eventually sent to the nurse’s office, where his injuries were treated.
White, who plans to press criminal charges against her son’s attacker, posted pictures of K’Harii’s injuries on Facebook, making it plain that her baby was a victim of assault, stating in part:
Yesterday my son was assaulted by this man on school property. He decided to slam my son which caused his tooth to get knocked out and a second pulled in emergency because it was so loose it was a safety hazard. They said kharii was having a rough day yet no-one called me or attempted to use the class dojo app which I made sure to download to be able to contact me. When asked what happened no-one has given me no real explanation just excuses blaming my son’s behavior that day. [...] I went to the school twice once soon as I got the news from my grandmother and again at the end of the day for a scheduled meeting. Neither time did this man show his face or bother to explain to me his story. As a professional adult that was a conversation that should’ve been had. The school seems to be searching every avenue to protect this man. However I will not tolerate for this man to be around ANYBODY’S child especially after what he’s done to mine. My son doesn’t want to go to school and who can blame him as a 6 year old child. All I want to see is things done right and justice for my son because when its all said and done it could’ve been your child.... [...]
Thompson-White told WHAM that her child is not consistently verbal. To communicate effectively with K’Harii, one must read his body language—something that Thompson-White says she told the school.
According to a 2016 Yale study, “Do Early Educators’ Implicit Biases Regarding Sex and Race Relate to Behavior Expectations and Recommendations of Preschool Expulsions and Suspensions?” (pdf), reading the body language of little black boys is often colored by implicit racial and gender bias, if not outright white supremacist discrimination.
In one portion of the study—the “eye tracking task”—teachers subconsciously looked to black boys to exhibit “challenging” behavior, while white children were granted the power of invisibility that allows them to navigate the world safely and without consequence:
Participants were primed to expect challenging behaviors (although none were present) while watching a video of preschoolers, balanced by sex and race, engaging in typical activities, as the participants’ eye gazes were tracked. In Task 2, participants read a standardized vignette of a preschooler with challenging behavior and were randomized to receive the vignette with the child’s name implying either a Black boy, Black girl, White boy, or White girl, as well as randomized to receive the vignette with or without background information on the child’s family environment. Findings revealed that when expecting challenging behaviors teachers gazed longer at Black children, especially Black boys.
I’ve previously quoted Phillip Atiba Goff, Ph.D., of UCLA, who, in his study “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children” (pdf), found the following:
Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent.
The dehumanization of black children, which leads to disproportionate suspensions, expulsions and far too many deaths, begins early; in fact, it begins before they’re even born. Long before black children have their first interaction with police officers, public schools—the conduits to incarceration known as the school-to-prison pipeline—are often their first experience with state violence.
In school settings, black children are profiled as dangerous before they even know their ABCs—whether or not that profiling is subconscious does not change the institutional and physical violence brutally forced upon them when so-called educators find their behavior “challenging.”
In response to the attack on K’Harii, Lisa Clark, CEO of Rochester Exploration Elementary Charter School for Science & Technology, issued the following statement:
I’m deeply concerned about the student who was in our care and was injured. As soon as the alleged incident was reported to us, we took immediate action. We have responded in accordance with our school policies and placed the staff member involved on administrative leave. Our purpose is to cultivate and care for the children in our keep. We take any matter involving the safety and security of our children very seriously and intend to understand what happened so that we can prevent it from happening again.
Let’s start here: Marlon K’Harii Williams is a 6-year-old child; he is a child with known verbal difficulties. He is a child with known sensory issues who was admittedly having a hard day. He did not receive empathy; he did not receive care, nor concern, nor affection. Instead, he was deemed a threat to himself and to others, then physically assaulted.
There is not one good reason, not one, that could possibly justify this so-called educator’s actions.