Long Beach Unified Places Teacher On Leave Amid Allegations She Used 'N-Word' In Class

The entrance to the Long Beach Polytechnic campus (Megan Garvey / LAist)

Long Beach Unified School District officials placed a teacher on paid administrative leave after multiple students went public with allegations that she used a racial slur in class.

Last week, a mostly anonymous group of students at Polytechnic High School published a post on Medium alleging business teacher Libby Huff had used the "N-word" while speaking to a black student. They also alleged Huff had thrown objects at students, duct-taped them to desks, and grabbed them by their ears or hair.

Kade Shandrow, a junior at Poly High School, identified himself to KPCC/LAist as one of the many students whose accounts are included in the Medium post. Shandrow alleged Huff had grabbed him by his hand — hard — when he was a freshman.

On the suggestion of a classmate, Shandrow shared a Google Doc where 31 students and a handful of Poly alumni first wrote statements of their experiences with Huff. Another student posted the document to Medium, Shandrow said.

"It is a serious problem," said Shandrow, "when students in a school have to act for the school itself because the students realize that the school hasn't done anything."

This is the second time in as many months that Huff has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, according to a statement from Long Beach Unified spokesman Chris Eftychiou. That has both students and Long Beach's teachers union perplexed about the district's inquiries.

"It raises the question," said Chris Callopy, executive director of the Teachers Assocation of Long Beach, "Which came first: the allegations or [Huff] returning to work?"

A welcome sign at Long Beach Polytechnic High (Megan Garvey / LAist)

COMPLAINTS AND INVESTIGATIONS

Huff — who's taught for 11 years at Poly and for 15 years in the district — was first placed on administrative leave on Jan. 13 following a complaint, Eftychiou's statement said.

Callopy said the initial complaint involved Huff's use of the "N-word." After the district investigated this complaint, Huff returned to school on Feb. 12.

Then, on Feb. 13, the students' Medium post went online. In addition to the "N-word" claim, the post outlined the students' allegations about Huff coming into physical contact with students as part of her discipline practices.

The day after the students' post went live, Long Beach Unified again placed Huff on paid administrative leave. Eftychiou's statement said the district was investigating "newly received complaints."

Eftychiou said he couldn't elaborate much further, other than to say "we consider the safety and wellbeing of our students to be our top priority."

The chain of events puzzles Callopy.

"How is it," the teachers union official wondered, "that these concerns of physical contact only came up after she was returned [to work on Feb. 12], not during the concern over her use of the 'N-word'?"

"I don't know," he added, "if the district didn't ask the question, or they asked the question and didn't get a response ... Generally speaking, investigators ask, 'Is there anything else you can add?'"

Callopy also noted that teachers are "confronted with the N-word on a daily basis" — as a word students use, as a slur graffitied onto bathroom walls, in academic literature and in social studies discussions. Callopy didn't know how Huff allegedly used the word, but he said context is important.

"Let's have due process have a chance here," said Callopy, "let's not try this in the court of public [opinion]."

HOW IT BECAME PUBLIC

One day during the week of Dec. 16, Poly High School AP psychology teacher Myriam Gurba said a student came into her classroom in tears, describing "having been called the 'N-word' by Ms. Huff."

The student told Gurba that Huff used the racial slur "in front of many witnesses," Gurba recalled. "It was not an isolated, private event. It caused [the student] a lot of distress."

Like Huff, Gurba teaches classes in the Pacific Rim Academy, a business-focused academic track within Poly High.

Though the statements in the Medium post were unsigned, they echoed many of the concerns Gurba had heard from students. She went on the record with KPCC/LAist to vouch for its authenticity despite concerns that doing so might put her job or reputation in jeopardy.

"Nobody should ever go to school terrified of their teacher," Gurba said.

When Huff returned on Feb. 12, Shandrow said he confronted her. As Huff attempted to begin her sixth period business class, the junior asked for an apology. When she didn't offer one, much of the class walked out. Shandrow was one of the few students who remained. After some time passed, Shandrow again demanded an apology and an explanation. When he said Huff didn't supply one, he walked out of class too.

"As an influence on teen lives," Shandrow said, "it's the right thing to do — out of kindness and out of pure respect — to say an apology after allegedly hurting these students."


UPDATES:

Feb. 19, 8:25 a.m.: This article was updated to clarify Shandrow's account of the origins of the students' Medium post.

Feb. 19, 7:00 p.m.: This article was corrected to reflect that Shandrow alleges Huff grabbed his hand, not his wrist.

This article was originally published at 7:00 a.m.