The New Jersey high school teacher, Howard Zlotkin, has been suspended with pay after appearing to target Black students in an online class.
Students at a New Jersey high school logged into their remote landscape and design class on Wednesday morning expecting their teacher to lead a discussion about climate change. Instead, the teacher went on an expletive-filled, racist rant against Black Lives Matter and George Floyd, the man murdered by a Minneapolis police officer.
“He’s not a hero, he’s like a criminal,” yelled the teacher, Howard Zlotkin, who is white, to a class of about 15 students over a Google Meet call, according to a video shared with The New York Times. He chastised students for, as he described it, making criminals into heroes “because they’re Black or because they got a bad story.”
One of the students filmed the rant with her phone and immediately contacted school officials. When they did not respond, she contacted a local news station, NBC New York, which reported on the story.
Now, an investigation is underway and Mr. Zlotkin, a science teacher at William L. Dickinson High School in Jersey City, has been suspended with pay, said Mussab Ali, the president of the Jersey City Board of Education. Mr. Zlotkin was also suspended with pay from his position as an adjunct professor at Hudson County Community College, a spokeswoman confirmed.
“The actions that this teacher took are not representative of a district in the most diverse city in the country,” Mr. Ali said.
Mr. Zlotkin said that he could not comment in detail because of the investigation, but that he would “love one day to give my side of the story.”
He described the footage as a “very well-edited sound bite,” even though nearly 15 minutes’ worth of video shared with The Times showed him repeatedly insulting and cursing at students.
Since schools began holding classes online, there have been multiple cases nationwide of teachers making racist and offensive remarks. In some cases, teachers had been caught making racist statements when they believed they were on mute. In Mr. Zlotkin’s case, he knew he was being heard.
Timmia Williams, a 17-year-old senior who provided videos from two days of class to The Times, said an assignment on climate change devolved into profane rants about race and personal attacks toward students, including her.
On Wednesday morning, the students submitted short research papers, Ms. Williams said. After she turned hers in, the teacher asked her about how humans are involved in climate change. Eventually, he brought up his disagreement with Black Lives Matter, she said.
As four students, including Ms. Williams, who is Black, challenged his position on the issue, he grew more irate. He cursed at one of them who told him he had white privilege. He then gave the four students, all girls, an assignment to write an essay on “why Black lives should matter,” Ms. Williams said. No other students were told to do the assignment.
The student population at Dickinson High School is 47 percent Hispanic and 15 percent Black, according to U.S. News and World Report. Eighty-five percent of students are minorities.
Ms. Williams told her mother about what happened. She said she was too shaken to celebrate getting accepted into college that day.
“This is the first time I ever felt somebody telling me that my opinion doesn’t matter because I’m young and because I’m Black and stuff,” Ms. Williams said. “It just threw me off. I just started crying.”
The next day in class, after she had refused to do the assignment, Mr. Zlotkin appeared upset.
“Why? You can’t make a case for yourself?” he told Ms. Williams, according to a video of the interaction. “No, you can’t, Timmia, that’s why.”
When Ms. Williams started to defend herself, Ms. Zlotkin cursed at her and later told her to “talk to the hand.” He chastised another student who refused to do the essay and kicked a third off the remote class meeting after he defended his classmates, she said.
Ms. Williams said she and her parents contacted the school and the Board of Education about what happened after Wednesday’s class, but received no response. She felt like she was not being heard and wanted to stand up for herself and her classmates, she said. That’s why they turned over video of the classes to the news station.
Her mother, Margie Nieves, said she hasn’t received any communication or apology from the school.
“I still feel some type of way because they didn’t solve it right then and there,” she said. “They waited.”