A teacher has been removed from the classroom at Peachtree Charter Middle School more than a month after students reported viewing a graphic video in class and accused him of physical abuse and anti-Semitic comments to Jewish students.
“There are systemic and cultural problems at the middle school stemming from the leadership over there,” said Stan Jester, who represents Dunwoody on the DeKalb County Board of Education. “Peachtree Charter Middle School has a history of bullying and abuse by teachers that has gone unchecked for years. It’s sad that parents can’t get traction with their issues at the middle school unless they go to the media.”
The teacher in question was switched to a different classroom after incidents were reported Dec. 7, but he was not placed on leave until a WSB-TV reporter began asking questions Wednesday, Jan. 24.
The teacher was standing between two curtains in the wings of the stage in the lunchroom when he stuck out a foot and tripped Michelle Robinovitz’s daughter Dec. 7, Robinovitz said. The girl’s lunch flew everywhere, and when she looked up, she noticed that the teacher did not offer to help and instead laughed at her.
“She was so upset, and this kid does not get upset easily. … But she just couldn’t even sit down and had to leave the room,” Robinovitz said.
Her daughter reported the incident to a vice principal. By the end of the day, another student reported that the teacher had pushed a small boy out of his seat, held him down and yelled in his face with a megaphone.
Robinovitz sent an email to the principal and vice principal the day she learned about the tripping, and the vice principal responded at the end of the following day that the school would conduct an investigation and that the teacher would be removed from the classroom. But the teacher was not suspended or put on leave during the inquiry.
The school did not disclose the investigation’s findings to Robinovitz. But she said she was on a phone call during which the principal and superintendent were told that the graphic video had not been shown and that her daughter had lied — until the mother pulled up the teacher’s electronic list of homework assignments, which included, “Finish this video from today and we will discuss it again tomorrow.” The assignment included a link to the online video.
“It was a mix between total shock and just wanting to get my daughter out of the school,” Robinovitz said about the incidents with the teachers. “We have never had a problem, but this just kept escalating, and the administration has been so ineffective and so dismissive.”
She said her daughter did have issues with the teacher before the tripping. For example, Robinovitz said, the teacher told her daughter, “I would have known you were a Jew just by looking at you.”
Robinovitz said the DeKalb County School District needs to be transparent about the investigation process, should be held accountable and must put the students first.
“I think the message here is that we have to stand up for our kids and that we can’t be silent when these teachers are taking advantage of their position,” she said.
She added, “Not once did someone call me and say, ‘I am sorry this happened to you. We are going to make this right, and you are safe in this school.’”
Robinovitz said she appreciates the Jewish community’s support and the immediate response after the initial reports about what happened at Peachtree Middle.
Andre Riley, DeKalb County schools’ director of strategic communications and marketing, said, “When there is an allegation of this sort, the employee is removed from the classroom while it is investigated, and then, following the investigation, the employee is either returned to service, or further action is taken.”
There were two separate investigations, Riley said, one at the school level and one by DeKalb County’s legal services department.
This is the second time the teacher has been removed from the classroom, Riley said.
He said the DeKalb school system does not tolerate incidents in which teachers inappropriately make contact with students.
But the teacher continued working in a classroom with students while the accusations were investigated.
The Anti-Defamation League is speaking with Peachtree Middle to learn more about what happened, but Southeast Regional Director Allison Padilla-Goodman declined to comment about the proper process for a school to follow when such accusations are made against a teacher.
“I think schools always need to create clear avenues for their students to communicate and air grievances against teachers, and I’m not sure if that was happening here or not,” Padilla-Goodman said.
The allegation of anti-Semitic comments used in the classroom comes amid a surge in anti-Semitic incidents cited by the ADL in the Southeast and nationally. It also is the latest in a series of incidents involving public and non-Jewish private schools the past few years in which Jewish students reported religious-based harassment.
The Atlanta Initiative Against Anti-Semitism held a forum with more than 200 teachers, administrators, parents and community leaders called Tackling Anti-Semitism for Our Kids a month before the Peachtree Middle incidents. That meeting, at which Padilla-Goodman delivered the opening remarks, included representatives of DeKalb schools.
Speaking after the Peachtree Middle allegations came to light, AIAAS founding partner Danielle Cohen focused on prevention at least as much as the response.
“We hope that the school and the district take this extremely seriously and provide additional training for all personnel but also increase their vetting and interviewing process to ensure that they are not hiring teachers who have biases against any particular classification or human being,” Cohen said.
“There is no unifying protocol or procedure in each district, as they each have their own set of rules, but I think that making the process more transparent for families would be beneficial. … There really needs to be a more stringent vetting process to understand the belief system, behaviors and the history of who they are hiring.”