Why did two Georgia public-school teachers allow students to dress in Ku Klux Klan attire for their school project?
Lumpkin County High School teacher Catherine Ariemma, who teaches the advanced-placement course combining U.S. history and film education, says that five students in her class came up with the idea to trace the history of racism in America for their final project topic.
Ariemma told The Associated Press (AP) that her students spent the year viewing films and later created their own films to watch in class. She stated that her class has 15 students of multiple races but no Black students.
With the permission of their teacher, four of the students wore robes resembling KKK outfits in efforts to depict the notorious white-supremacist hate group, which had large chapters nearby in Georgia and Alabama. Ariemma told the AP that she had escorted the kids down the hall as they were filming. She said, "The kids brought the sheets in; they had SpongeBob party hats underneath to make it shaped like a cone. They cut out the eyes so they could see."
Black students at the school were offended when they spotted the group filming their project in the cafeteria, especially when some of the teens dressed in costume asked one Black student for his assistance with their project.
Student Cody Rider admitted to wanting to fight the students who were dressed in the KKK-like hoods. He said that they were taunting his cousin. "Students approached him and asked if they can re-enact the lynching of him for their class project," he said.
Ariemma further told the AP that students were covering an important and sensitive topic but one that she might handle differently in the future. She said, "It was poor judgment on my part in allowing them to film at school." Ariemma did, however, defend her decision when she told CNN, "We have to discuss racism in our society because if we don't, we are condoning it, and I don't cover it up. You can't discuss racism and not include the Klan."
Lumpkin County School Superintendent Dewey Moye stated that Ariemma had been placed on administrative leave and could face anything from suspension to termination.
The superintendent didn't believe the teacher was trying to offend anyone but admitted that her decision wasn't well thought out. Moye was cited by the web site First Coast News as saying, "We have to be careful with our study of history, especially that period of time. It was a dark period and we have to include it. But the teacher's behavior was unacceptable. We condemn that kind of behavior."
In related news, another Georgia school teacher is in the hot seat for similar actions.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was told that Stephanie Hunte, an eighth-grade social-studies teacher at Sweetwater Middle School in Lawrenceville, Ga., allowed her students to wear KKK robes as part of a re-enactment for their social-studies curriculum.
Before this could continue, another teacher saw the students preparing for the re-enactment and told an administrator. Gwinnett County schools spokesperson Sloan Roach said, "The administrator told Hunte that this type of activity was not appropriate and would not take place."
Unfortunately, school officials found out that this same "re-enactment" had taken place the day before. As of now, no disciplinary action has taken place.
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