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'Slave' Homework Controversy Heats Up at GCPS Meeting

Board chairman apologizes; teacher dismissed by school system is identified.

The official fallout of the recent controversy at Beaver Ridge Elementary in Norcross has taken effect, and the controversy was very much alive at Thursday's board meeting of the Gwinnett school system in Suwanee.

Board Chairman Louise Radloff apologized for the incident after several speakers addressed the board, sometimes heatedly.

"What happened at Beaver Ridge was very unfortunate," Radloff said. "I apologize. It was not right. (The school system) is all about children."

According to media reports, the teacher who resigned is Luis Rivera, who had been with the school since 2008.

The controversy began when the third-grade teacher gave questions in a math homework assignment that referred to slavery. Frederick Douglass is a former slave.

The questions were:

  • "Each tree has 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?"
  •  "If Frederick got two beatings each day, how many beatings did he get in one week?"

Several speakers Thursday criticized the GCPS board.

Penny Poole was particularly emotional, as Radloff repeatedly had to ask her to end her session when it went over the alloted time.

"It's an atrocity," Poole said. Referring to board members, Poole said, "We've got people making decisions that don't look like us."

Community activist Marilyn Tillman said, "We have become a laughingstock. ... With local control comes local responsibility."

Another speaker, Mark Williams, said the incident is "another reason why diversity training is needed in Gwinnett schools."

Poole went so far as to say that Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks "does not care about black people."

The superintendent responded to her by saying, "You have to look at actions."

After the meeting, Wilbanks said that Gwinnett "does as good a job as anybody" with diversity.

Wilkbanks added that the GCPS has ended its investigation on the matter. Other Beaver Ridge teachers involved have been admonished.

LilZ January 20, 2012 at 02:52 PM
I don't think we can blame the entire school board or say that the Superintendent doesn't like black people just because of one teacher's actions. The guy probably didn't ask anyone about it before he created the assignment - if he had, I would bet that it never would have been created. It was certainly dumb - and Tillman is right, we are now a laughingstock, but I think Penny Poole is overreacting just a bit. An atrocity? Come on. Genocide is an atrocity, not a couple of insensitive math questions.
Liz Bigler January 21, 2012 at 02:19 PM
I agree with the previous comment.
David B. Manley January 22, 2012 at 12:05 AM
I, too, agree with Lilz. As an aside, Mr. Rivera is a minority in our country, also. I don't know that if the Board and Superintendent were all Black that this fiasco would not have occurred anyway. While the questions were insensitively and wrongly produced, I think Mr. Rivera, at least in part, was trying to call to the students' attention that slavery was inhumane and demeaning including that some of our citizens' ancestors were, in fact, beaten. I believed Mr. Rivera when he said, “There was no intent to harm, or to offend. Rather, I was trying to make connections for the students, ... ." After the reactive emotions subsided, in the light of reason and with our tradition of forgiveness, it may have been better that Mr. Rivera kept his position because he probably would have been one of our most race sensitive teachers. Those who are without sin.... . Sometimes in our rush to blame we practice the sort of extremism that we would otherwise condemn. Overreaction and blanket invective may do as much harm as the behavior we are trying to eliminate. Extremes only serve to create reactionary responses. I doubt Dr. King would have approved some of the statements made against the Board and Superintendent.
Penny Poole February 28, 2012 at 05:40 AM
This story was incorrectly quoted by the author and was misrepresented by using quotes out of context. Please if you are going to report the news please do so professionally and without bias.

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