On Sept. 28, a parent picked up her son from Wadsworth Elementary and heard him describe how Stacey Smith, a fifth grade teacher, told the story of “this little Black boy” she knew when she taught in Chicago.
The boy didn’t have much. Smith, the child recalled his teacher saying, bought the “little Black boy”–a phrase she used repeatedly, according to the parent’s retelling of her son’s recollection–clothes and a bike, and that the boy told her not to come to his neighborhood because she was white and that Black people would kill her. The bike was stolen, and the boy’s parents were murdered, so he had to be raised by his sister.
The parent was incensed that the story was told, and that it was told in math class. She complained in writing to the school district, saying Smith had made such statements to students as “you kids are privileged to be here.” The parent called that statement “disgusting,” “unwarranted and racist.” (Public education of course is not a privilege but a right, and the accident of birth is not privilege but chance.) In a discussion with a district official, the parent later said that the story Smith told could inhibit a white classmate of her son’s from coming over to play at his house, for being afraid.
Smith has been teaching for 19 years. Flagler schools hired her in August 2006. She was Wadsworth Elementary’s Teacher of the Year in 2017.
The district’s Office of Professional Standards launched an investigation of the allegation. The Professional Standards Committee met on Nov. 18. On Dec. 3, Smith was informed that a “preponderance of the evidence” supports the allegation that Smith “acted inappropriately and/or unprofessionally in the conduct of” her professional duties, according to the letter Robert Ouellette, the coordinator of professional standards, issued her.
“Accordingly, you are hereby reprimanded for the lack of professional judgement used when you told the students in your class a story about an African American child living in Chicago under distressed circumstances. This story was not appropriate for the students. and not relevant to the grade level curriculum,” Ouellette wrote. He told Smith she had “violated the Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession in Florida and School Board Policy,” which requires teachers to exercise good judgment and “not intentionally expose a student to unnecessary embarrassment or disparagement.” Ouellette warned that any such unprofessional conduct in the future could result in further disciplinary action or her dismissal. The matter was referred to the state Department of Education’s Professional Practices Services for review and possible investigation.
Aside from the written reprimand, Smith was required to take “diversity and sensitivity training.”
Smith has filed a grievance over the reprimand and, according to School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin, “there will be a determination from Assistant Superintendent [Bobby] Bossardet on whether the current disciplinary action remains, whether it will be lessened or completely overturned.”
In her interview with Ouellette, with others present–a union representative, Wadsworth Principal Mary Kate Parton, District Human Resources Director Jewel Johnson–Smith appeared to blame the child who had first told the story to his mother, and claimed the child had apologized for “making up the story,” according to the investigative summary of the conversation with Smith. However, numerous students had corroborated the student’s account of what Smith had told the class.
Smith said the student was mad at her because he’d gone to the bathroom during the math lesson and she told him he could get notes of what he’d missed from a classmate, “and this upset” the student. To explain why she told the story of her experience as a first-year teacher in Chicago, she said it was part of her social studies unit taught earlier about understanding other cultures and “how does location affect the way people live.”
“Ms. Smith stated the story she told to the class was about the culture shock she felt as a first-year teacher in a Chicago inner city school as part of program through Notre Dame University,” Ouellette summarized. “Ms. Smith stated her purpose for telling her story was to provide students an understanding of how the area was culturally different. Ms. Smith stated this story she told was aligned with the essential questions. Ms. Smith stated that she never referenced race during the telling of her story to the class and that student statements that reference race as part of the story are not accurate because this [story was told to] share about culture differences as found in the text book’s lesson.”
The teacher during the investigative interview said students asked questions, one of them about whether she had a favorite student. “Ms. Smith stated she told the class she did have a favorite student, a beautiful African American child,” Ouellette reported. She then went on to tell the class how she selected the boy’s name from an “angel tree,” the type of gift-giving tree for poorer children at holiday time and that she bought him a bike. She said the boy told her “it was not safe for her to come to his neighborhood so his grandmother did come and pick up the bike from school.” At one point in the story she told of how she’d been in the parents’ pick-up area when a car backfired, causing the same boy, who was with her, to react protectively. She said she then went on to “teach the lesson about the culture of the Iroquois Indians.”
In a subsequent email to the same investigators, Smith again summarized what she had intended. “I was showing love, respect and gratitude,” she wrote. “Teaching of color or judgement of the culture was never the focus, the only time color came up was when I said [redacted] was a beautiful African American boy. The focus was our PURR attribute, Understanding Differences in Others and how location affects the way people live, which led us into our lesson on how the Native Americans found strife living amongst themselves and how they formed red towns and white towns.”
She added: “I would never speak poorly about someone’s culture or upbringing as I believe and was raised that you do not know what people have been through and it is not our place to judge.”
By then Ouellette and the Sara Ashman, an assistant principal, had met with numerous students in Smith’s class to hear their account of the story. Most recalled it and corroborated it in the main, if with different details. Most remembered hearing that the “beautiful Black boy” had just two articles of clothing. But most related the story as Smith going to the neighborhood to drop off the bike and the boy telling her not to “because people hate the white race if they come to where African Americans live they end up basically getting shot,” as one student put it. There were different stories about why or how Smith had discovered that the boy’s parents had been killed, with some of the students saying they were on drugs, they hadn’t paid for their drugs, or they were still in the house. In one case a student recalled it as Smith having to go to the police station “when she saw the parents were dead.” They all remembered the stolen bike. They also recalled Smith saying “she had taught in horrible places and that we are lucky to be where we are,” or her telling the class “how blessed they are to live in a town like this.”
In sum, there was no question that an apparently quite detailed and graphic story about the Black boy was told, that the color line was a theme, and that it left an impression on the students.
In the course of the investigation Ouellette documented that several years ago the parents of African-American children had had difficulties with Smith. Fred Terry, an assistant principal at Wadsworth, recalled the issue six or seven years ago, but not in its details, not having kept notes of the meeting going back that far. But he recalled a heated parent conference involving the parents of two students in Smith’s class, and that in the end both students were transferred to another class.
The parent who made the initial complaint about Smith drew criticism, both from the investigators and other parents, for discussing the matter on social media and using an email list of parental addresses to disseminate her own thoughts about the issue, which the investigators cautioned her could taint the process. The parent said she would stop doing so. The investigation also notes that Smith herself, according to a different parent’s report, asked a child why he had been summoned to the front office. “Parent stated a concern that Ms. Smith prompted the class to not say anything if they were asked,” according to a statement by the school nurse, who had been informed of the matter by phone by the parent.
The child who initially reported the story of the boy in Chicago was transferred to a different teacher. Smith is “currently listed as an active, classroom teacher,” a district spokesman said today.
She needs to be fired for teaching CRT in the classroom. Stop her from teaching this crap to our kids!
That is not CRT. Educate yourself before spouting off.
Pissed in PC says
Here is the definition of CRT but I highly doubt you will be able to understand the definitions of the big words. https://www.britannica.com/topic/critical-race-theory
Who the hell would want to be a teacher in Florida anymore?
Thank god I quit teaching in Flagler. Best move ever.
Just a career tip, if you’re teaching math at a Flagler county school, that’s the only subject that should be brought up as a learning tool. Math formulas don’t have race or gender attached to them, just basic operators. Teach math lessons, Test the math lessons, Grade the tests, Assign & Report student’s the grades they’ve earned based on their test scores. Those are the square pegs in the square holes. It’s not a teacher’s place to assess who is privileged as more vs less fortunate in this world. I think she deserved her disciplining. If any teacher wants to go there, they can do that on their own time, off campus, somewhere else. Children are there to learn the skills to compete in society, they should be there for that only in a math class. It being a math class, subjective & critical thinking is for another course’s material. Likewise, any student that is in a math class & isn’t focused on mastering math, needs to be removed as a distraction just the same when they are keeping other students from math lessons. Others shouldn’t be sandbagged from making the most of every opportunity to learn math in their math class.
In fifth grade teachers most likely teach more than 1 subject.
What the hell does your culture shock have to do with math?
K. Wheaton says
Instead of going ballistic the parent could have had a teachable moment with their child and listened to what they understood their teacher’s story meant to them. Children are overly protected from what other children experience in their daily lives. Perhaps the parent and child should volunteer with some organization.
So now, you’re blaming the child, and parent, for a teacher’s inappropriate “story” in a math class? And then, the teacher lied about it. The “teachable” moment here is, stick the the subject of the class, and don’t try to lie your way out of a situation you created. All of this goes to character, and apparently, this “teacher” doesn’t have any.
Well this comment will fall on deaf ears – The first thing I saw in the lead picture was a blocked fire exit. There are two doors in this exit not because someone wanted to spend a few extra dollars but because the building and fire codes of the State of Florida require a minimum width at each exit door. With one door blocked from the outside, teachers (who should know better) and kids (who we cannot expect to know better) may not be able to get out of the building in an emergency.
While we all wring our hands about what is and is not being taught in the school, let us be a bit more concerned about their physical safety in the building. The local fire department personnel allowing these conditions to exist in public buildings should turn in their bugle, horn, axe and hat badges. What other violations exist to which they turn a blind eye? I have see dozens of fire code violations since moving to this area but a blocked exit in an elementary school takes the cake. Sign me as a retired state fire marshal.
Concerned Citizen says
As a retired Fire Rescue Lt. I am right there with you. I see so much going on around here that could have serious issues for building occupants. But falls on deaf ears. I even notify the State and County Fire Marshal on occasion but nothing ever happens. In one building that I provide contract security for we have most of our extenguishers 2 years out of date. And low batteries on 3 defibs. As part of my monthly inspection we document and turn into our clients. I’m about to the point of an anonymous tip to the State on this one.
It seems we are worried about a lot of other stuff when we should focus on the important stuff.
Teach Math not CRT, it’s time to take back the schools from these bad teachers.
Well the “small government” folks are now the thought police. Sounds like a dictatorship in the making.
Of course, we will never know the truth of the actual event that happened with the “beautiful Black boy”. However, I would lay odds that the story was, at a minimum, embellished. While “I” certainly believe that age appropriate “historically ACCURATE” information should be included in official school curriculum, such personalized anecdotal stories should not be permitted.
As an adult, my immediate takeaways from Ms Smith’s story:
1. Racism= Black people want to kill white people, and they live in violent/crime ridden neighborhoods
2. Racism= White people live better lives, and have more clothes and toys
3. Condescension= “beautiful black boy”
4. Outside Curriculum and Completely Inappropriate for a Math Class
Young children are so very impressionable, this kind of story just may haunt some of the students for many years to come.
BTW. . . this was NOT an incident of teaching CRT!!! Stop, just Stop with the hysteria over CRT!!! What Ms. Smith did was take it upon herself to tell an un-approved personal story that was way, way, way out of bounds.
Let this be a lesson for all teachers: never share a personal experience, personal advice, or idea. Remember that children are too fragile to handle any information from an adult (does this include personal stories/histories voiced by parents or grandparent?) that has not been deemed historically and politically correct. Children and their sensitive parents should not be subjected to such brutality.
Proud Non-Racist says
I’ll just say that this isn’t CRT as many of you stupid ass whites in this county claim it is. CRT is only taught in college law classes. So what if she said that was her favorite student. She really showed she cared and wanted him to succeed in life and get out of that neighborhood. She’s right, you do have it much better here than in impoverished neighborhoods. You fragile ass white parents really take your racism too far! Hell y’all don’t even wear your hoods anymore cause you don’t think someone will stand up to your racist views. Got news for you! We know who you are cause you spout your racist views, book banning and no masks or vaccines for my kids at every school board meeting. Maybe you need to go back to school and get some much needed education instead of thinking Tucker Carlson and the other racists at Fox Entertainment Channel telling you what to hate this week. When you die God is gonna look in his book and see y’all only believe in whites only and he’ll toss your ass to hell.
“stupid ass whites”….I guess that’s not racist?
Proud non-racist says
I have every right to call my own race racist! Y’all make me sick feeling that whites must have power over everyone that doesn’t have your skin tone. If you can’t treat everyone equal then you are the problem.
The Geode says
I am skeptical of anybody who has to loudly and proudly exclaim their virtues. You are who people say you are and NOT what you “claim to be”. The people who know you know what you are. you ain’t gotta say nothin’…
Proud non-racist says
Hey I lived in two of the most racist states in the union. If you can’t treat others that doesn’t have your skin tone as equal then you are the problem. I thought rural Georgia was racist till I moved here.
The Geode says
I lived as a black man all my life no matter what state I lived in and I can tell you that people are NOT as racist as you try to make it out to be. I really don’t care about racism as long as it doesn’t affect MY ability to move around. I grew up in a small town and am still cool with my black AND white friends. I know some of my white friends might say some shit behind my back, but my black ones would say some shit behind my back even more so. EVERYBODY has some type of bias. If you move around treating people like “people”, your “race” really doesn’t matter. We ALL think alike regardless of color. Conservatives (like myself) tend to get along better with a conservative white than a liberal black. They don’t see a (insert name here), they see a guy who thinks like them. Everything pertaining to or opined towards blacks isn’t racist. There is not a “racist boogey-man” behind every corner. I want a system that treats everybody the same. That is saying something coming from someone like me who tested the very limits of “systematic racism” and is glad to say it wasn’t as racist as they say because I wouldn’t be free to type this “mini-novel”, today.
Right is right. Wrong is wrong. That is that…
Concerned Citizen says
Please tell us how you really feel about us whites. And how about your racism? It’s showing big time. But I guess racism only flows one way right?
Proud non racist says
I have every right to call my own race racists. I see it every time I go out in this county. You walk around and act like you’re so much better than people of color and anyone that doesn’t dress in high dollar clothes, has the latest expensive Coach purse. You act like every person of color is a criminal. Plus the way I’ve seen the way you talk to people of color. Yeah I’m calling out my own race and I don’t care.
Concerned Citizen says
Nice try but dump on someone else.
My wife is African American. I’ve been in an inter racial relationship for most of my adult life. I don’t tolerate discrimination or racism in any form. We both dealt with it on a regular basis in the service. And we have dealt with it in her 30 plus year medical career. Running around with that chip you have and blanket judging folks doesn’t help the issue. Educating does.
Proud Non Racist says
Which is exactly what I’m doing. This county and half it’s white citizens act like racism doesn’t exist here. So I’m calling out the ones that do it. I’m sorry you faced racism in the service but that’s another group that needs to be cleaned up. Until we step up and show where and who the racism is coming from then we can move forward to stop it.
When I was growing up, our teachers taught. They were the authority. Seems to me these days teachers think they are these kids friends. More and more I am quite disturbed with what these teachers are teaching. This year alone as an example I know a lot more about my daughters teachers than I or she shoulda know about. One is trying to get pregnant…in vitro etc… TMI, my child should NOT know about this, nor does she need to know about this, in order for you to teach. Another is going through a divorce, when she is there she is crying, and most of the times does not make it. Yet another apparently sells makeup/female style products on the side…school is a goldmine of customers….????? WTF Flagler… who are you hiring?
Teachers should teach the subjects. FYI the best teachers I had I never knew their opinion on anything! Teachers these kids are not your friends, start teaching, not raising them!!!!
Stick with the subject of math. Telling how you help people of color will get you in trouble. I guess teachers can’t talk about their experiences any.ore. Had she helped a white kid I guess that would be O. K. A teacher shortage, her job is threatened. Wow white blind America.
The Geode says
Perhaps you can enlighten us by telling us what the solution is or let us know what YOU are doing “to help black people”. Somebody has to care, right?
I will await your answer because maybe you can inspire me to do more than just look out my window and shake my head…
lil law lady says
Public education is not a fundamental right, just to clarify a note made in this article. San Antonio ISD v. Rodriguez (1973), SCOTUS case that established this.
@lil law lady
u r overruled:
Is education a fundamental right under the 14th Amendment?
While education may not be a “fundamental right” under the Constitution, the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment requires that when a state establishes a public school system (as in Texas), no child living in that state may be denied equal access to schooling.
U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982)
@To Whom It May Concern
Seek, and ye shall find.
“Because we don’t know, do we? Everyone knows… How what happens the way it does? What underlies the anarchy of the train of events, the uncertainties, the mishaps, the disunity, the shocking irregularities that define human affairs? Nobody knows. ‘Everyone knows’ is the invocation of the cliché and the beginning of the banalization of experience, and it’s the solemnity and the sense of authority that people have in voicing the cliché that’s so insufferable. What we know is that, in an unclichéd way, nobody knows anything. You can’t know anything. The things you know you don’t know. Intention? Motive? Consequence? Meaning? All the we don’t know is astonishing. Even more astonishing is what passes for knowing.”
― Philip Roth, The Human Stain
lil law lady says
Just like Googling for a medical diagnosis is inadvisable, so too is Googling for legal research.
Under Rodriguez, SCOTUS clarified that there is no fundamental right to a public education, in part because the constitution does not provide many “positive” rights (e.g., the government is not required to provide us with shelter or food, either). In Plyer, SCOTUS explicitly states that while education is not a fundamental right, if the state gives the privilege of an education to one class of people (in the case of Plyer, American residents and citizens) then it must give it to all classes (undocumented immigrants). It does not give children a right to education, but tells States that they cannot keep certain “undesirables” from getting a public education if that education is being offered to others. Hope this clarifies things.
@lil law lady
“…It does not give children a right to education,…”
As I said too.
“…but tells States that they cannot keep certain “undesirables” from getting a public education if that education is being offered to others. Hope this clarifies things.”
It does clarify — you’re indeed small.
Since all my comments are now suppressed, you’ll just have to assume whatever you please.
Timothy Patrick Welch says
The boy told her not to come to his neighborhood because she was white and that Black people would kill her.
Do to possibility of hate crimes, they should ban guns in Chicago.
lil law lady says
McDonald v. City of Chicago lol