High School Teacher Says She’s Facing Threats For Wearing ‘I Can’t Breathe’ T-Shirt In Zoom Class
An English teacher at El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills says she has received death threats after an image of her wearing an "I Can't Breathe" T-shirt was widely circulated on social media.
The teacher -- who we are not naming to protect her privacy -- shared her account of the threats that started about two weeks ago in a written statement sent to LAist through a colleague.
“The emails were threatening and angry,” the teacher wrote. “They came by the hundreds, all to varying degrees of threat. I tried to block them because it was scaring me so much.”
The teacher said she was wearing the T-shirt during an online session to introduce herself to her class. According to the teacher, a parent who objected when she mentioned her work in various social justice campaigns took a screenshot of her and posted it on Facebook with a link to her school email address. (KPCC/LAist was unable to view the original Facebook post.)
She said the threats escalated after a conservative broadcaster reposted the image of her in the T-shirt to his followers.
“This has forced us from our home and caused so much mental anguish and stress,” she wrote.
We will not be silenced: Educators stand in solidarity with a UTLA member who was harassed with hate speech and threats for her commitment to teach racial justice and to affirm that #BlackLivesMatter.— United Teachers Los Angeles (@UTLAnow) August 27, 2020
#WeRiseTogether #UTLAstrong #blacklivesmatterinschool #StampOutRacism pic.twitter.com/46e9s8Yy5s
Yasmine Pomeroy, who also teaches at El Camino Real and is a graduate of the school, said this isn’t the first time teachers there have discussed racial and social justice issues in the classroom.
“Realistically, it could have been any of us, because we’ve been doing this for years,” Pomeroy said.
But back then, she said, any upset parents or criticism were handled “one-on-one.”
She thinks the difference this time could have something to do with classroom conversations moving online. With students learning from home, parents can see directly into the classroom.
“I was fully expecting this to happen again,” Pomeroy said. “We just didn't realize with distance learning and social media how aggressively this would have ended up taking off.”
According to the school’s distance learning policies, students and their families “are not permitted to photograph, video or audio record, or screenshot any distance learning without express written permission.”
“If ECRCHS continues to mandate synchronous learning, the school must take preventative measures to protect educators from something like this happening again,” United Teacher Los Angeles president Cecily Myart-Cruz wrote in a letter to the school's executive director. “Educators need to be able to teach about racial and social injustice without threats, harassment, bullying, or scare-tactics.”
On Wednesday, UTLA members showed support for the teacher by wearing similar shirts, and protesters rallied outside of the school.
Thursday evening, dozens of parents, students, alumni, and community members called in to a meeting of the school’s board. Most of the public comments – though not all of them – were in support of a resolution to affirm that Black lives matter. The resolution ultimately passed 7-1.
The school’s executive director did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but in a statement posted on the school’s site wrote, “We support ECR teachers, staff, and students who speak up for those whose voices have been oppressed and pledge our commitment to moving beyond protest to action.”