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Denver teacher ‘will not return’ to district after reportedly making black student clean up feces

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A 6-year-old black boy was reportedly made to clean feces off the floor of a school bathroom after his kindergarten teacher believed a white student’s claim over his — an incident that advocates say illustrates the racial bias that exists in Denver’s public schools.

After investigating the incident, Denver Public Schools officials and the administrators at Stedman Elementary School in northeast Denver “have decided that the employee will not return to the school district,” the district said in a statement Thursday.

“Our commitment to equity and trainings, such as implicit bias training, is stronger than ever,” the statement says. “We know that a culturally responsive mindset is necessary for all of our students to thrive.”

The statement does not describe the incident, which happened in May. But community activist Hasira Ashemu, who attended a meeting between the 6-year-old’s family and school officials, provided some details. Ashemu was told that after the teacher discovered the feces, she asked several students who was responsible. A white student said his black classmate was to blame.

Despite the black student’s insistence that he was not responsible, the teacher, who Ashemu said is not black, told the black student to clean it up. The student complied.

Ashemu was asked to support the student’s family in his role as the director of advocacy and organizing for the community group Our Voice Our Schools. Ashemu said that beyond the obvious health risks of asking young children to handle feces, the incident shows how implicit bias can affect how teachers treat students.

“This has caused a great amount of anguish with the family,” he said. “You teach your children, especially black boys, to listen to the teacher so as not to be targeted for disciplinary issues.”

Most of Denver’s nearly 93,000 students are students of color, while most teachers are white. Denver Public Schools’ data show disparities in how black students are treated.

While 13 percent of Denver students are black, 28 percent of out-of-school suspensions in the 2017-18 school year were given to black students. Meanwhile, just 10 percent of students enrolled in rigorous high school courses that same year were black.

Nearly three years ago, a damning report commissioned by the district found that black educators in Denver feel isolated and mistreated, and perceive that black students are more harshly disciplined in part because of biases held by white teachers.

In February, the Denver school board passed a resolution aimed at better serving black and African-American students. It requires that starting next school year, all district staff receive implicit bias training. Until now, the training has been optional for some teachers. The resolution also requires that each school create a plan to boost the success of its black students.

Two months later, in April, a different family went public with the story of how their 7-year-old black son, who was in second grade, was handcuffed at school.

Ashemu said he is supportive of the leadership at Stedman Elementary, and he said the family plans to keep their 6-year-old son at Stedman next year. Although the incident itself was traumatic, Ashemu said he’s satisfied with how the school addressed it. Stedman Principal Michael Atkins did not immediately return an email from Chalkbeat Thursday.

“I’m glad the district didn’t foot-drag on this issue,” Ashemu said. “The way the principal handled this was as supportive as I’ve ever seen.”

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