Westchester High School Teacher Forces Students to Use Slurs in Class Assignment

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By Benjamin M. Adams on January 29, 2019         @BenAdamsO_O

OSSINING, NY — A teacher at Ossining High School assigned a classroom project that required her freshman students to use slurs to describe marginalized groups. In what appears to be an “inclusivity project” gone badly wrong,  parents of students in the class say that the teacher — Kristin Breyter — decided that she would teach her students about bigotry by forcing them to use and display slurs. News of the assignment left parents stunned and dismayed.

Ms. Breyter told the students — some working alone and some in groups — to pick “any” marginalized group and then instructed them to list the slurs commonly used against that group. In one instance, an African-American student attempted to modify the n-word but was told by the teacher that he needed to write the word out, letter by letter. An LGBT student was said to be in tears after being forced to make a list of LGBT slurs. Students resorted to using Google to search for slurs about particular groups which included blacks, hispanics, and gays.

I spoke with one parent with a daughter in the class who preferred to remain anonymous. She said that she was “incredulous” when hearing her child recount the exercise, which took place on January 25, 2019 in Ms. Breyter’s ninth grade ASL class. “I felt heartsick,” said the parent, “knowing that my daughter was hit with all these awful words that I had hoped she would never have to hear. I felt the worst for the African-American student and the lesbian girl and any other kid who felt personally singled out.”

A second parent, who also wished to remain anonymous, said that she and her husband “were dumfounded” when they learned about the assignment. She said they planned to take a wait-and-see approach and to measure the school’s response to the event. She and her husband wanted to know if this was “a rogue event rather than something systemic that warrants more scrutiny.”

The assignment itself appears to draw on one of the works of Ann Silver, a deaf artist and activist. That work, A Century of Difference, displays the evolution of terminology about the deaf. A slide featuring that work can be found online.

The students were instructed to create placards displaying the name of the marginalized group and its associated slurs, which were to be decorated artistically. Apparently, Ms. Breyter’s plan was to display the placards containing the slurs on the walls of the classroom. One of the parents noted that Ms. Breyter shares this classroom with another teacher.

Ms. Breyter did not respond to an email requesting comment. The principal of Ossining High School, Stephen Hancock, also failed to respond to an email. However, an attorney from the school did reach out on the morning following my inquiry. Emily Lucas of the Ingerman Smith law firm contacted this reporter, apparently prompted by fear that I was acting in my capacity as an attorney. I assured her that I was merely reporting the story. Ms. Lucas indicated that I would be contacted by a spokesperson for Ossining High School. That representation turned out to be false. Over 24 hours later, I had still not been contacted nor had the school issued any statement on the matter.

A parent confirmed that a substitute teacher instructed Ms. Breyter’s ALS class on Monday. This remains a developing story.

UPDATE (1/29/19): For the second day following my request for comment, a substitute teacher again instructed the class. The school is still declining to comment.

UPDATE (1/30/19): Still no comment from the school, but we have now obtained a copy of a letter sent by Principal Stephen Hancock to the parents of Ms. Breyter’s freshman ASL class:

Principal Hancock begins his explanation by telling the parents that “an Assistant Principal was informed over the weekend” about Mr. Breyter’s assignment. However, it should be noted that Mr. Hancock himself was notified of the project by this reporter on Sunday evening. It is not clear why Mr. Hancock chose to omit this information from his letter to the parents. Moreover, the letter does not disavow the project, admitting only that the “execution could have been more effective.”

Update (1/30/19): I’ve closed the comments on this post because of too much inflammatory rhetoric. This is an important story that should be handled in a transparent manner by the school. Anonymous fighting in the comments section is not conducive to a positive resolution to this situation.

Copyright 2019 Benjamin M. Adams. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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