In a nod to the power of community and social media, Lakeshore Public Schools in Stevensville, Mich. has rescinded disciplinary action against an Advanced Placement English teacher for a controversial question she wrote on a vocabulary quiz.
Christine Schroeder, a teacher at Lakeshore High School, was suspended for four days, WSJM reports, and had agreed to attend a racial sensitivity workshop after giving students a quiz with a fill-in-the-blank question asking for a word that describes neighboring Benton Harbor -- a poor, mostly black town. The answer Schroeder was looking for was "sordid," which means dirty, filthy or squalid.
Since word of Schroeder's disciplinary action got out, students have come to the educator's defense. A Facebook group called "Support Mrs. Schroeder" has attracted more than 2,600 members as of Tuesday afternoon. Students familiar with Schroeder struggled to understand and accept the discipline.
"We know she's not that type of person," senior Colin Rohn told WBND-TV.
Schroeder tells WBND-TV that she thought the way the question was written actually places Benton Harbor in a positive light. The full text reads:
"Many people assume that all areas of Benton Harbor are ________: they don't consider the neat arts district with its cool restaurants and shops."
"I, in fact, felt like I was supporting Benton Harbor," she told WBND-TV. "I had absolutely no intention of making a statement I thought was racially derogatory or inflammatory."
Cornell Burton, the father of a black girl in Schroeder's class, told The Herald-Palladium that he was outraged by the question, and that school officials attempted a cover-up by not issuing a long-term suspension for the teacher.
"It's offensive because it's degrading to another community," Burton said. "The handling of the situation is almost as bad as the test itself."
The district jumped to respond, issuing a statement last week saying, "The exam question did not reflect our commitment to a positive diverse learning environment," WBND-TV reports.
But a statement Tuesday from Superintendent Cindy Vujea noted that the district "acted quickly to demonstrate that inappropriate comments are not tolerated in Lakeshore classrooms" when Schroeder's question was "construed to be racist."
"When the teacher's comment and question are placed in context, it is clear that Ms. Schroeder was seeking to challenge stereotypical assumptions and encourage respect," Vujea said in the statement. "With limited information, it was easy to draw the opposite conclusion. As a result, while I have advised Ms. Schroeder to work at giving context to her discussions with students, parents and administrators, I applaud the work that she is doing in the classroom to challenge and encourage students to think critically."
The district will still continue forward with a task force to examine how to promote diversity and shared understandings in the Lakeshore community.
Although Schroeder is no longer under the disciplinary mandate, she posted Monday on the "Support Mrs. Schroeder" Facebook group that she will still attend the diversity program -- of her own volition.
"In looking at [the program's] website and track record, it looks like a fabulous program that I firmly believe all educators and citizens would benefit from," Schroeder writes. "To walk away from all of this without realizing that it has at the very least illustrated that there are deep divisions that need to be addressed, and to realize that what we say and how we say it is so very important, is to miss an important lesson. There are tough conversations still to be had in our classrooms, in society, and with each other, and increased sensitivity and understanding is always something to strive for."
The Lakeshore controversy comes after a third grade teacher in Norcross, Ga. outraged parents and community members for using examples of slavery in math word problems. One question read: "If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in 1 week?"
Following public outcry and numerous protests, the educator resigned from her position.