Singing and chanting in English and Spanish, dozens of heavy-coated and woolly hat-wearing parents and activists stormed the doors at City Hall Tuesday, Feb. 6, asking Mayor Bill de Blasio, “Which side are you on?” They emphasized the need for cultural competence in schools.
As a raucous NYCHA hearing went on in City Council chambers upstairs, bewildered and taken by surprise, the security guards could do little to appease the hyped-up crowd, which was led by Natasha Capers as they swarmed the foyer of the prestigious Lower Manhattan building.
The protestors demanded to know what de Blasio intends to do about Patricia Cummings, the seventh grade school teacher who decided that it was in any way OK to step on the back of a school student allegedly asking, “You see how it was to be a slave? How does it feel?”
Last week, while teaching about U.S. slavery during her social studies class at Junior High School 118, Cummings reportedly told three Black students to lie on the floor. When one voiced that she was not comfortable, allegedly Cummings stepped on her back and asked her how did it feel to be a slave.
“Like many others, I am completely outraged to by the actions of Bronx Middle School 118 teacher, Patricia Cummings,” said State Sen. Kevin Parker. “I call for her swift removal from the New York City Department of Education, and the revocation of all New York State licensures and credentials that would allow her to teach in our State.”
Parker continued, “Although I hear some calling for a second chance for Ms. Cummings via culturally competent training and the like, as an African studies professor at the City University of New York for over 20 years now, I know there is no level of training that can make a person more sensitive to the struggles of another. Those feelings cannot be prepared in one’s mind, but rather must be intrinsic to one’s character. This is not the case for Ms. Cummings and it is my hope we can learn for this deplorable act to inform future decisions and best practices when deciding who will be afforded the honor of teaching our children.”
As many schools strive to fulfill some degree of the Black History month curriculum, parents, students and activists were astounded to hear the news. Fueling the subsequent angry response further, the Department of Education returned Cummings to the classroom, until the community ire forced Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña to remove her from the classroom setting.
The mayor’s office said the Amsterdam News should speak to the DOE.
Their spokesman, Douglas Cohen, said, “While the investigation has not been completed, these are deeply disturbing allegations, and the alleged behavior has no place in our schools or in society. Ms. Cummings remains reassigned away from students, and we’re providing the school with additional supports.”
Regarding CEJ’s demands, he added, “City Hall is considering the request.”As Tuesday’s protestors pressed against the inner gate at City Hall, Emma Wolfe, the mayor’s chief of staff, met with Natasha Capers, coordinator of the Coalition for Educational Justice, and Angel Martinez, a parent leader with the organization,