LA PLATA — Following an incident where a Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) teacher was caught on video admitting that she yelled a racial slur at a family in a parking lot, the school system released a statement on Friday, Nov. 16 saying the teacher has been reassigned and legal roadblocks prevent them from taking immediate disciplinary action
“While there have been calls for me to take disciplinary action, current negotiated agreements with the union representing this employee limit my ability to address this situation directly,” PGCPS Interim CEO Monica Goldson said in the statement. “Additionally, there are other legal considerations. This employee, like all of us, is entitled to due process. In the interim, I have taken appropriate action to reassign the employee.”
The union representing the employee is Prince George’s County Educators Association (PGCEA). However, President Theresa Mitchell Dudley said this type of language is against everything the union stands for, but they are obligated to make sure their member has due process.
“Anytime somebody is accused of something, they have the right to have a hearing, and they look at did they violate any school system policy,” Dudley said.
Goldson said in the statement that she was “disappointed and deeply disturbed” by the behavior from a PGCPS employee and hopes the situation can be used for the community to engage in dialogue and enhance respect for one another.
“Notwithstanding, let me be abundantly clear: Any employee who does not recognize, value and celebrate the value of our diversity has no place in our community of schools,” Goldson said.
The incident occurred on Nov. 12 when Dawn Nichelle Lennon was in a Walmart parking lot in La Plata with her husband and two children. Potomac Landing Elementary School Media Specialist Darlene Sale called Lennon’s husband the “n-word” because he did not back out of the parking lot in a way that was acceptable to her. Lennon then started to record the incident as she confronted the woman.
In the video, Lennon confronts Sale, who is white, as she gets out of her car and asks if Sale just called her husband the racist terminology.
“Yeah, I did,” Sale replied before walking off toward the store.
Following the confrontation, Lennon posted the video on her Facebook page where it gained the attention of the surrounding community and PGCPS.
“I’m very upset,” Lennon said. “I’m upset that my kids had to experience this. I was more upset that my kids had to experience that and see that type of display of racism, bigotry, and hatred. We were just very disheartened, very sad, and you know outraged too. We’re all still reeling from the incident.”
PGCPS posted a statement on Twitter the next day around 3 p.m. announcing that they were aware of the incident and were investigating the situation.
“PGCPS is aware of the video on social media involving an employee. We are working to address parent and community concerns,” they said. “Diversity & tolerance are our core values. We expect all members of the PGCPS community — administrators, faculty, staff & students — to behave respectfully.”
As a teacher in a predominately black school system with African American students making up at least 58 percent of the students and a majority black school such as Potomac Landing, Sale would interact with the minority students on a daily basis as the school’s media specialist. Not wanting someone with these views around the children, Lennon and parents on social media said want her removed.
This was not the first time Lennon has been a victim of racism. Back in 2004, her home was one of many in her neighborhood that was allegedly burned down because of racism. During that time she never got the chance to stand up for herself and this time she wanted to let Sale know she was not going to stand for it.
“I feel like we have to expose people for who they really are,” Lennon said. “You never know what kind of positions of leadership they have in the community and what they represent…I think we have to always stand up for any type of injustice.
“We’re all on this planet part of one race, the human race, and we all deserve to be treated respectfully, and there shouldn’t be anyone treated different because of their race so I thought I’d just stand up for my community, my husband and for anyone who had to go through these type of things.”
Newly elected District 2 Board of Education Member Joshua Thomas said that although he is not yet familiar with the steps PGCPS would take in this situation, he hopes the issue does not get pushed aside.
“I would imagine the teacher is not going to have the same reputation or relationship with her students and also her colleagues that she works for so I think it would probably be best that the school system does take action on it,” he said. “As far as what that action specifically looks like, I can’t say for sure, but something needs to happen. It would be wrong for this situation just to be swept under the rug.”
Meanwhile, Dudley said she hopes PGCPS follows the due process accordingly and uses this as a way to educate students.
“I hope that they use this as a teachable moment and teach,” Dudley said. “The Student Safety Task Force has one of its recommendation that there would be cultural bias training for staff and students, it was cut out of the budget. I’m not saying that would prevent anybody from doing anything, but we can teach our children not to act in a certain way and what is the correct behavior.”
Lennon said she doesn’t feel like Sale should be teaching anymore because people pay teachers salaries through their taxes and they should not have to pay for a racist teacher. Although she wants Sale to be immediately removed from PGCPS permanently, she hopes the experiences sparks a change in her heart.
“I hope this situation sparks something in her heart and she changes her belief system, including those around her,” she said. “Maybe she can come to some conclusion in her mind that she’s going to live peacefully and she’s not going to treat people differently or use hateful words just because someone is a different race or ethnicity or religion or anything like that.”